A large auditorium full of tiered seats. The inside of the Unicorn Theatre
Unicorn Theatre

And our Symposium Venue is…

On 4 and 5 September 2018, Unlimited is hosting a global symposium on disability-led arts in the 21st century, which will lead into the start of Southbank Centre’s Unlimited Festival (running from 5 to 9 September 2018).  The search for the perfect venue for such an event has proved to be difficult undertaking, as Isabella Tulloch, Programme Coordinator for Unlimited, explains…

I always knew that the task of finding a venue for our Symposium was going to be no easy task, but I didn’t quite realise the highs, lows and pitfalls that would come my way. Finding a space that was big enough, cost effective and, most of all, accessible in London felt like a challenge, but one to which I was committed and ready to grasp with both hands! We knew we wanted to find a partner rather than just a host – someone with a vested interest in the Symposium, who would like to be involved in shaping and delivering the event with us – and with this in mind I began putting together a long list of potentials.

I quickly realised that theatres, event spaces and more traditional conference arenas in London could range from one extreme to another; some fitted all the criteria in terms of space and access but were eye-wateringly expensive, being aimed at a corporate market, or were big enough and within budget but also happened to be Victorian or built pre-1970s, for example, and either had no consideration for access or could only fit one or two wheelchair users in an auditorium and none on the stage, which wasn’t quite going to cut it for us.

So the hunt continued. I visited various spaces and met with many different staff teams, but surprisingly many of the ‘big name’ venues could only offer space for around five wheelchair users – an improvement, but still not good enough. Some also said that no wheelchair users would be allowed in particular areas – even the bar, in one case!

In this day and age I would like to think that more venues would be making accessibility something to really strive for. I’m not decrying the whole sector, as I did find spaces that had put access to the forefront and could have worked for the Symposium had our dates matched up, but I did also encounter situations where I was told over the phone that the access lift was broken, that it had been for some time and that they had no idea when it was going to be fixed…

Eventually the stars aligned, we had identified a few worthy contenders, and so began the process of narrowing down the options to the best fit in terms of space, access, reasonable proximity to Southbank Centre (where the Unlimited Festival will begin on the evening of the 5 September) and, crucially, a positive attitude towards access and a track record for putting that attitude into action. Eventually, one space clearly stood out as the perfect fit.

So, drum roll please… We are pleased to announce that Unlimited: The Symposium will be hosted by the Unicorn Theatre, based on Tooley Street near London Bridge. The Unicorn is the UK’s leading professional theatre dedicated to producing inspiring and invigorating work for young audiences. They have an excellent record for access, customer service and the employment of disabled people – including Usher Plus, a scheme to widen and diversify just who can be an usher, challenging stereotypes and providing vital experiences. We couldn’t be happier to be partnering with them.

Next month we’ll be running polls to select the Symposium’s topics of discussion, from a long list of suggestions recently publicly crowdsourced using the #UnltdSymposium hashtag. Watch this space and get the dates in your diary – Unlimited: The Symposium is go…