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Jez playing a blues harp in his hat, his eyes twinkling

Jez Colborne

It's been really interesting looking back at myself and my leadership journey. Working with a coach has made me see myself as a leader and now I'm doing something that a person with a learning disability has never done before. (Jez Colborne)

Jez Colborne is one of those wonderful people who light up a room when they walk in.

Is it his warm and inquisitive personality, his easy laidback stride or his dazzling smile? I ask Jez this question during one of our regular Skype chats.

If you go to the internet, says Jez, you can read about people like me, who have William's syndrome. They say we are a bit 'over friendly'. It's in the genes, I guess.

It's true that Jez is really friendly, but that's not the whole story.

I really like people and I like to find out what makes them tick, Jez tells me, but this feels like part of me and not my disability.

Jez doesn't care too much about his genes, but he does choose his trousers very carefully.

a pack of meerkats standing on their hindlegs


In coaching, I chose a meerkat as a metaphor for me - and now meerkats are all the rage you know. I'm a trend setter. I'm meerkat.com! (Jez Colborne)

So what was it about meerkats that struck a chord with this very individual musical leader with a learning disability?

A lot of my life, I've been sort of shoved around in a pack, from place to place, from special school, to sheltered accomodation, to college. I've had some good times and some bad times and I know it's a cliche, but the music has pulled me through, he says.

Jez goes on to talk more about meerkats.

Meerkats are very shy really. They travel together and are very unlikely to step out on their own. They sort of bob up and down in a pack.

So how did Jez move from meerkat to 'big cat' - directing his first musicial theatre show with Mind the Gap? Tim Wheeler, Artistic Director of Mind the Gap, was one of the people who spotted Jez in the pack. What does Jez think Tim saw in him?

I think Tim saw that I was a good musician and he wanted to bring it out. I was in the pack and maybe I put my neck up a little bit further. Having a 'syndrome' or a learning disability sort of clubs you all into one, yet we are all different, he says.

Music is the thing that means the most to me and I think that's what made me stand out in the crowd, that passion for it. I feel it's why I'm on this 'ere planet like. To make music, and make music that means something.

As a result of this, Jez has now been working with Tim and Mind the Gap over many years and he's done some great work with the company which has taken him across the UK, to USA and China too.

Whilst Jez still needs support to travel, he's living independently, doing work that he loves and trying his hand at leadership in new and exciting ways.

read more about Jez's work at Mind the Gap
an image of Jez on his journey - credit Mind the Gap


Being a musical director doesn't make my words perfect. I have to work on what I am saying in the music, so that people really understand, and that means having to get help in sometimes. (Jez Colborne)

Jez is currently working on an Unlimited Commisson called Irresistible, described as a 'siren symphony'.

He's directing the piece with the support of Mind the Gap and he's writing the lyrics for the piece.

Irresistible will be staged at Lister Mills in Bradford and on Ilkely Moor at the end of October, 2010 as a live performance with sirens, choral music, projects on the walls and rocks, and dramatic lighting.

Jez moves from fear to excitement and back again as he talks about the show. As we pull this case study together, he's very aware that there is only a month to go.

He's not new to challenges but this is asking more of him than ever before and he's very keen that taking the lead mustn't mean bossing about.

So why has he gone for this new role?

I want to show people that I can take this role and tell people what to do, but in a good way, so that they will want to follow me with a happy feeling and to bring the band of players together, he says.

In doing this, I'll really show people out there that I can be a musical director, he says. It may not be perfect, but people will see me leading and taking real risks in my work.

I still need, as a leader, to be open to people telling me things that are not going so well. I think some leaders think they can't ask for help, that they have to do it alone, otherwise people will feel that they are weak. You have to reach out and you have to take feedback on the chin, or, as a leader, you're not going to get anywhere.

Here's a peek Mind the Gaps Sirens project that inspired Irresistible
American Signal Federal Thunderbolt, siren


People think that sirens are about warnings but I think they have a magic about them and they draw us in. (Jez Colborne)

I'm interested in why, amongst other things, Jez has a fascination with sirens.

He starts to talk about the history of sirens and how they were, of course, used to warn people that trouble was on its way.

I think they are really wonderful things. They are more than a warning, the sound they make is just incredible. I go on to ask Jez about his favourite siren.

It would have to be the American Signal Federal Thunderbolt, he tells me. It's got this amazing buzz .

I immediately go to You Tube whilst we are chatting on line to hear for myself and it doesn't take me long to get the point he's making. It's an incredible sound, invasive, yet with a really interesting quality to it. Don't they say that great leaders throw light on new things and allow people to see things differently?

Check out the American Signal Federal Thunderbolt for yourself. There's a whole community online who love sirens as much as Jez does.

Apple Lattices

As we come to the end of our last conversation for this case study, we talk about fear and falling down the Gap: losing yourself and your direction in the buzz of a big job ahead.

He tells me about his love of Co-op apple lattices and the two packets that are waiting for him in the kitchen.

It's important to try and eat well, which I get right some of the time. I give myself a treat to keep me on track. I know one pack would probably be enough, but two gives me the edge. I know what I like and that helps me, and anyway, they're 'irresistible'. We laugh out loud.

(Sarah Pickthall with Jez Colborne for Sync, September 2010)

Go straight to find out more about Irresistible on Mind the Gap's website


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