Changing lives and perceptions of learning disabled and/or autistic people in the creative industries

One of Europe’s leading inclusive theatre companies, Hijinx Theatre, is creating significant life changes for its actors, participants, and their families, as well as changing perceptions of learning disabilities and /or autism (LD/A) on stage and screen, as shown in a new Social Impact Report.

Regarded as Wales’ leading inclusive theatre company, Hijinx produces high quality performances and activities. It strives for equality by making outstanding art with learning disabled and/or autistic actors on stage, on screen, on the street, in the workplace, locally, nationally and internationally for Wales and for the world.

Conducted by Abigail Tweed - Milestone Tweed & Mark Richardson Social Impact Consulting, Hijinx’s Social Impact Report captures the personal life changing stories of the people they work with and demonstrates the huge social economic value of the arts. The research shows the performing arts are a vehicle for health and wellbeing, and increase happiness in people’s lives. 

In 2019-20 Hijinx generated over £4.5 million in social value. That means that for every £1 invested in Hijinx, £4.84 of social value was generated. This is equal to, on average, 73,770 weekly shops in the UK.

The findings in this report clearly demonstrate the life enhancing impact Hijinx has on the lives of our actors and their parents and communities by building confidence and independence and increasing happiness. The report also shows how we create significant value in wider society by changing the perceptions of people who work with us, attend our performances, or experience our training courses.

James Downes, Chair, Hijinx

Some of the key findings included:

  • 9 out of 10 Hijinx actors felt more confident since joining Hijinx
  • 72% of actors experienced an increase in their independence as a result of joining Hijinx.

Hijinx actor, Lindsay Foster, now lives on her own and tours  the world with Hijinx’s shows. She said:

I went from a meek shy girl who wouldn’t do anything to an independent confident girl who is confident to go travelling and they [my parents] don’t have to worry about me. Thanks to adult placement and Hijinx I’m here doing what I do today. They are awesome. They’ve helped me a lot.

Lindsay Foster, Hijinx Actor

Hijinx parent, Alison Powell said:

Hijinx has given Tom a far stronger sense of himself and his disability - far more self-assured and able to speak up about his strengths and abilities. It’s increased his verbal dexterity, his ability to explain himself and express his needs and preferences and emotions. It’s also transformed his sight reading - utterly transformed. He can now read fairly fluently; certainly he has functional reading where he didn’t have before.

Alison Powell, Parent of Hijinx Actor
  • 73% of Hijinx actors say they have more friends thanks to Hijinx.
  • 72% of Hijinx actors keep in touch with their Hijinx friends between sessions. 
  • 73% of Hijinx actors and participants say they felt much happier since being with Hijinx. 

I was told in school that acting was not for me and that I should go into accountancy. But I can do it. I look forward to every day.

Ashford Richards, Hijinx Actor

As well as the report demonstrating how arts engagement improves happiness and wellbeing, Hijinx has reported significant change within the sector:

  • 90% of the creative people are more inclusive and have change the way that they have worked since working with Hijinx. 
  • Hijinx generated £119,000 in value of skills and opportunities, which is equivalent to 5958 theatre tickets.

Their pioneering training programme has made significant changes to the perception of how learning disabled and or autistic (LD/A) people are seen on stage, screen and in the community.

BBC Wales | S4C’s Craith | Hidden features Justin Melluish, a neurodivergent actor playing one of the main roles in the new series, which has just finished on S4C but still available on BBCiPlayer, and will be on BBC Wales next year.

Working with Hijinx gave us an opportunity to review our practices, to think how we work and be more inclusive, which we will be taking forward into other productions. Justin is an incredibly talented actor, and working with Hijinx through the Casting process made us aware of the breadth of talent available and I hope other producers will consider their approach.

Severn Screen, Producers of Craith | Hidden

This is the first leading TV role for Justin.

It was a great experience to meet the cast and crew. They are lovely people to work with and I bonded with my brother Sion in the series. Thank you for seven screen to pick me. I can’t believe it, it’s my dream come true.

Justin Melluish, Hijinx Actor

One other industry partner said:

““Hijinx show that it's possible to work with people with autism or learning difficulties on an equal footing, taking into account our different needs, by providing a structure to work within and support for everyone in the room.

Hijinx create simply the best work. With all, for all, and taken everywhere. They have made inclusive work something we should all be doing.

Parents also shared the importance and invaluable need for Hijinx and the arts over the last 18 months, especially for those who have been isolating, shielding during the pandemic. Amanda Freeman, whose daughter Bethany has attended Hijinx Academy in Carmarthenshire for the last two years said,

They treat Bethany with the utmost respect. During COVID they kept Bethany, and us too, connected and motivated through some difficult times. They supported us and helped us come up with creative ways of doing things.

Amanda Freeman

Hijinx has been pioneering in the way they train, and support, contributing to changing perceptions of people with learning disabilities and / or autism.

Sarah Horner, Chief Executive of Hijinx, said:

At Hijinx we see the power of theatre and the arts to transform on a daily basis and that has been so important over the last 18 months. To see this evidenced so clearly in this report is wonderful. It shows the huge impact that Hijinx, and the arts, have on those involved, and the wider benefit for families and communities. 

We are proud to create work and experiences that change people’s perceptions, and create changes that lead to increased opportunities, but we know we still need to do a lot more, especially at this time of recovery. We want to ensure our communities are not excluded from engaging with the arts after the pandemic. We, alongside many other organisations and individuals, will continue to lobby for inclusive provision for artists, participants and audiences. We want the screen and stage industries to follow the Seven Industry Principles, a new guide to support the industry to make decisions inclusively, to go beyond compliance and celebrate diversity, and to see a truly inclusive recovery.

Sarah Horner, CEO, Hijinx

Phil George, Chair of the Arts Council of Wales said,

The Arts Council of Wales is proud to support Hijinx as a key Welsh theatre company. Hijinx is at the cutting edge of stage and screen work with learning disabled and autistic actors of extraordinary talent. It is internationally recognised and valued for this work but crucially, it changes lives in families and communities in Wales.

This report, showing an almost fivefold return on investment in terms of social impact, is a reminder to us all that the arts can have a huge and inclusive impact in society. Through the staging of shows or creative involvement with films and TV programmes, Hijinx opens up wellbeing and a sense of possibility for participants and for all of us who experience their remarkable work.

Phil George, Chair, Arts Council of Wales

The full report is available download as PDF, audio report and Easy Read at along with interviews and films from those who contributed to the report. 

Hijinx’s Social Impact Report was supported by Lloyds Bank Foundation.

Read our Social Impact Report

Our Impact