creative:connection is our award-winning project that tackles disability prejudice by bringing disabled and non-disabled young people together through creativity. After four days of writing and composing original songs and music under the guidance of four professional Create musicians, 57 students from four Manchester and Salford schools performed at Manchester Central Library to an in-venue audience of 110 families, friends, students from two visiting schools and Create and school staff and a remote Zoom audience at Manchester Literature Festival 2023. Cllr Bev Craig, Leader of the City of Manchester, also popped in.

Students from four schools worked collaboratively with Create’s musicians to compose pieces inspired by the festival’s theme ‘Speak Up!’, celebrating the power we all have when we find our voice and speak up about the things that matter. Each group created their own music as well as working towards a group song, incorporating all four schools. Create musicians used the participants’ ideas to formulate a chorus that was learned by all students and accompanied by sign-along actions. Led by Create musicians Matt Dunn, Holly Marland, Mike Poyser and Bethan Roberts, creative:connection is now in its eighth year.

MEET NATHAN: “I don’t call them disabilities, I call them superpowers!”

Nathan, a student from New Park Academy, said “This is my second year taking part in the project. Normally I focus on my [physical] health, but [projects] like this are good for my mental health. It’s important to have the chance to do things like this because if you’re going through a tough time, then you have people there to cheer you up.

“During the project I learnt that music can be about anything. I also learnt not to judge a book by its cover. People can be different but they’re still nice. My opinion of people with disabilities has changed because of this project. I’d never think a bad thing about a disabled person but I did think they might be difficult to work with. Working with students from Chatsworth has been great.

“I don’t like calling them disabilities, I call them superpowers. I have ADHD and autism and I don’t let that stop me.”

MEET LUCIAN: “I made new friends who supported my ideas”

Reflecting after a week of rehearsals, a student from special school Chatsworth High School said “Doing something creative felt amazing. I enjoyed it last year as well.

“We’ve been using music to “Speak Up”, which is when you speak up about how you feel, whether you’re angry, lonely, sad, happy or hungry. I played keyboard and drums. It’s really good working with everyone because we got to write lyrics with different groups. I wrote this lyric: “don’t touch the fireworks or you will burn”, that’s good isn’t it? I made new friends with the New Park students and they supported my lyric ideas. I’d feel amazing if loads of people came to watch us perform because everyone is supporting us. People are going to be clapping for us. I can’t wait.”

Create’s Founding CEO Nicky Goulder said: “This project is a celebration of the amazing ability of the creative arts to build connections and challenge preconceptions.

“People need to create. Creativity impacts our wellbeing, emotional and mental health. It builds skills, brings joy and reduces isolation. It enables us to learn about ourselves and others in new ways.

“Arts activities have been shown to improve disabled children’s social skills, sensory perception, emotional regulation and more. But disabled people’s access to such activities is often limited due to lack of opportunity, inaccessible provision, or cost.

“That’s why we are committed to providing free, high-quality creative arts experiences for those who need them most. creative:connection brings disabled and non-disabled children together to build skills, relationships and understanding through the experience of collaborative creativity.”

The creative:connection Manchester and Salford Showcase was featured on BBC Radio Manchester. You can listen to first-hand accounts from our project participants below.

The afternoon was a collective celebration of the transformative power of the arts, with some remarkable talent on display.

Thank you to our partners at Manchester Central Library, Manchester Literature Festival, and to The Harold Hyam Wingate Foundation, The Tana Trust and an anonymous donor for supporting creative:connection Manchester and Salford.