Bristol and Me: Tony Holdom


We speak to Tony Holdom, head of the Misfits Theatre

Misfits is a charity for people with learning disabilities and an interest in drama and creativity. You see amazing developments: give people a chance to express themselves and they become more confident, more outspoken – there’s a freedom in playing somebody else. 

We all lose if everyone in society isn’t allowed to fulfil their potential. Historically, people with disabilities have been shut away – you wouldn’t see a person with learning disabilities in the street. Through doing this kind of work, people can be seen and heard. Get some of the Misfits into a room with other people and things change for the better. People see the humour, the personalities, the insight. It changes attitudes, breaks down barriers.

People commission live performances from us – NHS England recently wanted something for a conference in London – and we do lots of training with third-sector workers. The evaluation we get back is amazing. Student doctors will say: “Next time I will really listen to a person with learning disabilities, take my time to understand what they’re saying. I’m going to be a better doctor for watching this.” 

I used to go to day service discos and they were so terrible I knew we could do things better. We’ve been doing Rhythm of the Night at Trinity for over 10 years now. Somebody with learning disabilities who likes music is DJ for the night, we have a bar, and it just works. It’s monthly and numbers are growing all the time. 

Being based in Hamilton House has been crucial for our development. It means we’re in the city centre – not pushed to the fringes – with a safe, friendly space. We’ve got the workshop and office space, use the Canteen before our workshops – staff are fantastic – and Coexist are so supportive. These are the hubs we need throughout the world, where you can meet all sorts of people and  learn new ideas. They should be growing, not under threat.

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