The recipient of a BAFTA Special Award is TripleC, a gateway organisation for deaf, disabled or neurodivergent people to access the arts and media.
Words: Rich Matthews | Images courtesy of TripleC
TripleC is the embodiment of leading by example.
“We’re the same as the people we’re elevating,” explains actor Cherylee Houston, the co-founder of TripleC and winner of the 2019 Women in Film & Television Achievement of the Year award. “We started from a seed of frustration that five years later has become this massive, industry-wide entity. It still operates as a load of disabled creatives working their socks off in between paid work, mind you. That’s part of our charm.”
“If you start with young people, it creates confidence and self-advocacy.” – Cherylee Houston
It’s no exaggeration to say that if you have seen a deaf, disabled or neurodiverse performer onscreen or in the credits over the past few years, TripleC was either directly involved or someone from its growing Disabled Artists Networking Community (DANC) was part of the conversation.
“We’ve put a lot of work into talent development at the same time as ensuring the industry has everything in place, so that one side isn’t ready before the other,” says fellow co-founder and actor Melissa Johns. “We knew from the start that we had to elevate both talent and industry together.”
The trailblazing pair, who are both disabled, founded the key gateway organisation just over five years ago. Started in Manchester, where the two were starring in Coronation Street, TripleC (which stands for ‘Creative Confidence Collective’) quickly expanded its regional success nationwide, with DANC’s roster swelling to more than 1,300 artists, actors, writers and creatives. “We’ve developed writers who’ve gone on to write for Casualty and Moving On,” explains comedian, writer and former TripleC Chair, Laurence Clark, who has cerebral palsy. “We’ve 30 trainees working on Ralph & Katie, the spin-off from The A Word, and courses running with ScreenSkills and Channel 4. We’re having a very real impact.”
“TripleC gives focus. We can keep people within the organisation, keep developing them.” – Laurence Clark
That impact extends to the ever-growing list of organisations working with TripleC, which includes the BBC, ITV, Sky, Netflix, the BFI and BAFTA itself. As a recipient of BAFTA Elevate (BAFTA’s bespoke programme to support talent from underrepresented backgrounds), Johns is keen to detail the scope of TripleC’s work, particularly its focus on empowering young deaf, disabled and neurodiverse talent. “Using drama and roleplay with young people to work on self-expression is the core of what we do,” she says. “Plus, we have our community outreach, including the Bee Vocal mental health choir, who sang with Emili Sandé at the Royal Variety Performance at Wembley. And, of course, DANC, which has become so big.”
The collective’s solution-focused spirit has helped them to expand during the pandemic, where a speedy shift to online delivery actually allowed greater focus on DANC’s activities. “We’ve run more than 300 online events since Covid,” notes Houston. “And if you start with young people, whether they want to go into the creative industries or not, it creates confidence and self-advocacy.”
TripleC has been working with BAFTA specifically to help level the playing field for disabled talent, and by doing so, try to help make the industry more inclusive and accessible. It has also been informing BAFTA directly on its own facilities, venues and events (including the newly developed BAFTA 195), with the aim of making them as accessible as possible. As well as developing diversity and accessibility classes and workshops for the industry, crucially, TripleC has introduced an incredible range of talented creatives to BAFTA, allowing us to showcase them to a wider audience. For Johns, Houston and Clark that is the real goal – that their work be about recognition rather than representation.
“Working with BAFTA shows we’ve a seat at the table,” says Johns. “It’s a real gamechanger.”
“It’s fundamental,” agrees Houston. “We’ve broken past barriers to make it about creativity, which was always our argument. It’s not about five individuals; it’s a community.”
TripleC’s vision is for advocacy to become redundant, with the community becoming purely a creative ecosystem. “It would be incredible if there was no longer any battle, that TripleC exists purely for celebration,” says Johns.
Houston notes that the past 12 months has seen a cultural shift in the industry, with TripleC no longer needing to knock on the industry’s door. “Now the industry is the one asking, ‘Can we talk to you?’” she smiles, noting that every one of DANC’s 1,300 artists do their bit to champion the cause. “The biggest thing for us was to overcome our isolation in having perpetual discussions about being included and why access should be considered. Now it’s an industry-wide conversation.”
“That doesn’t mean we’re anywhere near where we need to be,” Johns adds quickly. “It’s getting better, but now is the time to drive forward even more, to avoid complacency. We have to keep the talent pipeline moving, allow people who have moved up to the next level to not hit a glass ceiling.”
The group’s tenacity is palpable and infectious, and it’s clear that the payoff for their time and effort is seeing more deaf, disabled and neurodivergent people onscreen, getting nominated for and winning awards. And, on a more basic level, simply working.
“It would be incredible if there was no longer any battle, that TripleC exists purely for celebration.” – Melissa Johns
“The light is finally shining on the disabled community and the brilliant work we’re doing,” says Johns. “The ripple effect is massive because the industry now knows that there’s a place they can come to make their work genuinely inclusive.”
Clark, who’s been in the business since the early noughties, has seen numerous schemes come and go, so although he’s known that there’s always been a will to make positive changes, the way to improve career progression has not always been clear. “TripleC gives focus,” he says. “We can keep people within the organisation, keep developing them.”
A positive force built on strength of numbers and shared purpose, TripleC’s members are in it for the long haul. The focus is now on helping an artist make a living by expressing their talent and passion without having to always educate every employer each time they’re hired. “Individual artists can now point to guidelines and other examples,” says Houston. “The industry has more varied voices. The more we change how we’re portrayed, the more we’ll change how we’re perceived in society.”
For Johns, it’s all about recognising that disabled talent offers exciting new stories that are well written, performed and executed in a way no one has seen before, because their lived experience is different from what people are used to seeing. “Choose us because we’re good storytellers, good writers, good actors, who do good work,” she says.
So, if continued momentum is key, where is TripleC heading next?
Clark grins. “We want the same indignation from the public when we’re not represented as when Awards haven’t been diverse enough,” he says. “In Shakespeare’s time, women weren’t allowed to play themselves onstage. In the 1970s, people still blacked up. We want to get to the point where disabled characters are played and written by disabled actors and writers.”
“Let the driving force be that we’re good,” says Johns.
“Exactly,” agrees Houston.
Thanks to TripleC, that future is much closer than ever before.
For more on TripleC, click here.
For more on BAFTA Elevate, click here.