A Smashing Night

It’s been the Unlimited Festival at the Southbank Centre this week. The Festival celebrates the artistic vision and originality of disabled artists. It’s included amazing new pieces, work in progress, and a wide range of talks, workshops and events.

Tonight the brilliant Heart n Soul celebrated their 30th birthday with an astonishing building-wide take-over of the Royal Festival Hall. Everywhere had been transformed, filled with colour, energy and creative possibility. I went with Lottie, Will and his mum Barbara, and some other friends.

Heart n Soul support learning-disabled artists to make incredible work. Tonight’s Beautiful Octopus Club Festival was crammed with live music, cutting-edge performance, and the opportunity to take part, dance, and party.

The Heart n Soul Lift was one of the highlights for me. The Southbank’s famous singing lift had been reprogrammed so that instead of doing scales it told jokes about going up and down.

I also enjoyed hanging out in the calm surroundings of Goggieland, where there were massage stations, soft sofas and a lot of deckchairs.

Up on Level Five you could enjoy live music across three different stages, with the likes of the Fish Police and the amazing Lizze Emeh. There was loads more music downstairs with DJ’s, dancing and a fantastic fashion show.

As we headed down the ramp to the dance floor, I started to have a ‘ticcing fit’. It began with some sudden unpredictable behaviour on my part – I gave myself a big push that sent me flying down the slope unable to control my body or shout for help. I was sure I was heading for a serious injury.

Thankfully I hit the barrier at the bottom of the ramp and my seat belt kept me safely in my chair. Lottie and Will quickly came to help and I was miraculously unhurt. But my chair wasn’t so lucky!

On the way down I’d hit a rail at the side of the ramp and this had forced one of my brakes into a strange position that stopped one of the wheels turning. Even though I couldn’t see it I could feel that the damage was bad.

I’m connected to my wheelchair very deeply and while intellectually I know it’s not part of my body, if it gets knocked or manhandled I often react as if it is. Knowing how strongly I feel about my chair Will reassured me that we would sort it out once my fit had finished, and when it did, he removed the brake and showed me the damage.

The metal’s completely twisted – I must’ve hit the rail with considerable force. When I saw this I was relieved it hadn’t been part of my actual body that had got twisted up.

Getting a replacement brake should be fairly straightforward, and I realised I could borrow a brake from another wheelchair as a temporary measure.

We carried on and had an amazing rest of evening. Happy birthday to Heart and Soul, and thank you for another wonderful, inclusive night. I can’t wait to see what you and your artists do next.

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