Fears for theatre group helping adults with learning problems

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A “POSTCODE lottery” means that the curtain could close for the final time on a theatre company that helps adults with learning disabilities in South Yorkshire.

Barnsley-based Cross the Sky will be putting on a piece entitled It’s Love I Think on Wednesday.

The organisers fear that the show could be the group’s final performance.

The group is currently operating on reserve funds, but if no more cash is found it will be forced to close in July.

Cross the Sky is run by Barnsley-based arts organisation Action Space Mobile, which also operates a similar theatre company in Sheffield called In The Boat. Both companies have had their funding from the Arts Council cut and are now looking for members of the theatre groups to fund the organisations through the “personal budgets” that they receive for social care from local authorities.

However, while every member of In The Boat has had funding approved from Sheffield Council, through their personal budgets, to pay for weekly theatre sessions, a number of members of Cross The Sky have not.

Action Space Mobile is now claiming a “postcode lottery” means that those people living in Barnsley are losing out on services that those in neighbouring Sheffield can benefit from.

Richard Rawson, from Action Space Mobile, said: “Of the 15 members of In The Boat, eight or nine are safely using the budget and the rest are still going through the process – but it is likely they will be successful.

“However, there’s at least three members of Cross The Sky who won’t be able to access this money, despite the fact that their neighbours in Sheffield can.

“Only one member so far has their budget sorted out and in operation.

“We think that if these people lived in Sheffield they may well be able to qualify.”

Mr Rawson added: “Some of the members have friends or family who can help with the process, but others don’t have anybody, so they have to rely on social services – who have a lot of people to get to.”

For the last 10 years, Cross The Sky – which meets for a full day each Wednesday at the Cooper Gallery in Barnsley – has been largely funded through the Arts Council and other trusts and foundations.

Members, whose ages range from 30 to about 60, have a range of conditions from Down’s syndrome to autism.

However, cuts imposed in September last year mean that, in order to keep operating, Cross the Sky will have to become largely self-funding through membership fees paid for out of the personal budget scheme allocations. Cath Smart, project leader of Cross The Sky, said: “Should we have to close, it would be a very sad loss for the members personally and for the cultural map of Barnsley.

“Our only hope for survival is to find another source of funding - but we are rapidly running out of time.”

Wendy Lowder, assistant director of “access and support” at Barnsley Council, said the “current economic pressures are difficult for many people and organisations.”

She added: “Personal budgets have been available in Barnsley for a number of years and there are currently over 70 per cent of eligible people receiving a personal budget in Barnsley.

“The council had identified that only a few people currently attending the Cross the Sky theatre sessions were eligible for a personal budget, however going forward, more people may choose to buy this type of activity from their personal budget.

“A current review of learning disability day opportunities is under way and this involves many people and organisations.

“The council is, however, keen to discuss with Action Space Mobile what support could be provided to them during this period of transition to a self-sustainable service.”