Jo Tolley

JoTolley

Jo Tolley is one of The Lincolnite's first generation Community Voices columnists. She describes herself as a 'curious curtain twitcher' and a budding freelance writer. She believes that everyone has a right to have their voices heard. "It's my life's goal to make a real difference and show that people can achieve their dreams, regardless of their situation." Jo has Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy and believes that the arts provide freedom and independence for all. 


It’s hard to comprehend the UK has been in quarantine for almost two months. As our country came to a grinding halt, the disabled community did what we do best: we got creative.

In adverse times we need to think outside the box, and so I’ve roped in the help of Lincolnshire Young Voices (LYV). Funded by Lincolnshire County Council and backed by our fabulous NHS, the participation group acts upon issues faced by young disabled people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities across the county. These inspirational individuals will give you an insight into how the arts can be an intrinsic factor in conquering any challenge.


Shaun Arrand

Shaun Arrand is a local photographer

Twenty-five-year-old Shaun Arrand is an avid photographer. Since receiving a camera in 2019, his stunning snaps of Lincoln’s wildlife get better and better. A person who exudes care and compassion – anyone who catches a glimpse of his art can see his loyalty extends to beyond the human race.

Photo: Shaun Arrand

Shaun utilises his life’s lens on the LYV platform to shine a light for people with autism. Thoughtfully, he articulates the importance of integrating the arts and disability: “It’s very beneficial for the disabled community to be able to have a bit of freedom.” Putting neurodiversity into perspective, he says the passion for his pastime is enhanced by his ability to maintain focus and structure.

Known by his friendly and outgoing personality, adapting to lockdown is strange for Shaun. However, when the sun is out, so too is nature. Photography is his coping mechanism; offering him a chance to relax. It’s impossible to be anxious when your garden is a place in which to build a portfolio.

Oliver Howard

Oliver Howard

Oliver Howard is a high-achieving biomedical student at the University of Lincoln. When he’s not in the labs, he’s a strong yet introverted musician. At the mere age of four, his connection with the arts through his natural talent became beautifully transparent.

The rare genetic condition Ai Cardi Goutiere, results in Oliver living with an overactive immune system. Having a deep understanding of his disability, he joined LYV to be influential, but also to prove limitations are a relative concept. When asked what his views of the arts were in correlation with the perception and expression of disabled people, he candidly responded: “They are important within every community… I’m a pianist despite my disability; the piano isn’t a very disability friendly instrument.”

Open to new possibilities: lockdown has been a chance for Oliver to continue his creative streak. Whilst the written word is a promising work in progress, music gives him purpose.

Siân Hutchings

Sian Hutchings

Photographer, public speaker and volunteer, Siân Hutchings is a master of all trades. Her innate ability to empathise with everyone she knows makes her a personable and approachable trailblazer. She is most definitely a force to be reckoned with.

Siân has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and is also on the autistic spectrum. Nevertheless, she’s always keen to demonstrate the many abilities her disability have gifted her. She is an invaluable spokeswoman for autism awareness on the LYV committee and further afield. Crediting the arts for unlocking her confidence, she explains: “My photography has helped me to focus a lot more in the community [where] I wouldn’t normally go.”

Photo: Sian Hutchings

Lockdown has brought a different routine for Siân, but in fearlessly breaking down her own barriers, she has adapted to the new normal. Embracing what the current climate means for all frontline workers, she captured Lincoln’s support and gratitude on camera, celebrating the moment the Cathedral went blue for our NHS.


Shaun, Oliver and Siân are three pieces of the LYV puzzle. Alongside six other young people, they form a diverse committee who are driven to inspire change. Charismatic, creative and committed: Lincolnshire Young Voices fundamentally believe the disabled community should be heard. Together, our voices make a difference.

If you’d like to find out more about Lincolnshire Young Voices or for the opportunity to become part of the team, please email me on [email protected]

Jo Tolley is one of The Lincolnite's first generation Community Voices columnists. She describes herself as a 'curious curtain twitcher' and a budding freelance writer. She believes that everyone has a right to have their voices heard. "It's my life's goal to make a real difference and show that people can achieve their dreams, regardless of their situation." Jo has Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy and believes that the arts provide freedom and independence for all. 

“Now more than ever, especially in these volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous times, we need to focus on those who are paving the way for a better future.” Andy Farenden: Curator and Licensee of TEDxBrayfordPool.

I’ve always been a storyteller. My brain takes the liberty of using creative license every day. In my head, molehills turn into mountains, the cow flew over the moon, and now the cow joins the flying pig for his daily quota of exercise. I’d go so far as to say this is what all disabled people have in common: a vivid imagination, a unique perspective and a desire to share our message. We are artists waiting to be unleashed.

I’m the blogger, scribbler and splurger of Written Wheel. I tell the world about my crazy adventures – most of which result in me unintentionally lying on a toilet floor. Whilst my ‘wide awake at 2am’ thoughts help me communicate for disability integration, I’m a fan of practicing what I preach. In order to wholly advocate for the disabled community to be confident in their quirks, I had to be confident in mine. And so, in November 2019, I wheeled onto the [email protected] stage.

TEDxBrayfordPool was established in 2017 by Andy Farenden (Curator and Licensee) and Kieran Jordan (Executive Producer). Passionate about creating a platform to highlight the brilliant and amazing people living in a city with such a prestigious heritage, the pair founded Lincoln’s independently organised TEDx program. The combination of TED’s eminent ethos of ‘ideas worth spreading’, and the community’s hunger to cultivate connection through conversation meant that TEDxBrayfordPool was perfectly placed. After the success of the flagship event, a notion that began as a mere: “wouldn’t it be awesome if…?” continues to thrive with the evolution of TEDxYouth, TEDxWomen and the Salon series.

As a writer whose reputation somewhat rides upon promoting disability and the arts, I’ll be the first to say my job is a walk in the park; a park in which I have to find a needle in a haystack. The arts is indiscriminate to disability, to race, religion and creed. Hence, in its indisputable celebration of what it is to be human, it’s an offence to single disability out. TEDxBrayfordPool is no exception. In three short years, Lincoln’s activists, academics, leaders, innovators and citizens have come together to share the beauty of their own art – whatever shape that may take. Beyond the multiple platforms the program offers, its greatest achievement is that it’s a catalyst for authentic and freethinking discussions.

In following government guidelines to minimise transmission of COVID-19, the program has been suspended until 2021, However, in the current crisis when we are turning to the arts for solace, TEDxBrayfordPool – with its innate ability to embrace the unconventional – will guide the people of Lincoln through lockdown.

The website, Facebook page and YouTube channel remains at our fingertips with a wealth of talks and articles to lift our spirits. Attempting to compile my ‘must re-watch’ list is almost impossible: there are too many inspirational words, breath-taking performances and life-changing moments to rate my favourites.

But, to get you started, here is a good mix for the current climate. When you’re done with these, grab your stockpiled popcorn and binge watch. You will be reenergised, rebalanced and will have enough pearls of wisdom to reimagine by the end.

Thomas Dunning -The fight for survival in a war against yourself

Melody Clark – Storyteller Sirens: a tributes to iconic women in the arts

Fran Lambrick – To live with freedom

Ryan Lovett – A convenient truth: Helping solve litter pollution

Lyndsay Muir – Tea with Trans: What’s on (and off) the menu

Jo Tolley – I Want Equity, Not Equality

A local stage, yet a global initiative: TEDxBrayfordPool has revived connection within the disconnect. It has given real people with real stories an opportunity to be heard. Anybody who has graced the space of Lincoln’s red dot, is a small part of a bigger picture and a brighter future for their united communities. In a time when very little is known, TEDxBrayfordPool hands us the key to unlock the door. We will all be artists unleashed. And that is an idea worth spreading.


Jo Tolley is one of The Lincolnite’s community columnists. You can pitch your column ideas and add your voice to Lincoln’s most read news website by emailing [email protected]

Jo Tolley is one of The Lincolnite's first generation Community Voices columnists. She describes herself as a 'curious curtain twitcher' and a budding freelance writer. She believes that everyone has a right to have their voices heard. "It's my life's goal to make a real difference and show that people can achieve their dreams, regardless of their situation." Jo has Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy and believes that the arts provide freedom and independence for all. 

Jo Tolley is one of The Lincolnite’s first generation Community Voices columnists. She describes herself as a ‘curious curtain twitcher’ and a budding freelance writer. She believes that everyone has a right to have their voices heard. “It’s my life’s goal to make a real difference and show that people can achieve their dreams, regardless of their situation.” Jo has Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy and believes that the arts provide freedom and independence for all.


“We’re proud that such a diversity of local people feel welcome in the space and in engaging with our programme.” Kerry Campbell: Artistic Director, Mansions of the Future.

As a writer, I see the daily impact the arts has on disabled people. I surround myself with likeminded individuals who accept my scatty, unconventional brain which runs at a million miles per hour, irrespective of my wheels. Through my fellow creatives of Lincoln, I have discovered the way to fit in is to stand out – even if you can’t stand. And so, it baffles me that the statistics aren’t reflecting this. According to Scope, of the 13.9 million disabled people in the UK, only 3.7 million are in work. Couple this with the research carried out by Arts Council England, which states a mere 4% of that figure work within National Portfolio Organisations, and questions have to be asked as to why.

My first experience of Mansions of the Future came shortly after I made the decision to ditch my ten-year quarter-life crisis to go in search of my authentic self. A ball of anxiety and uncertainty: I sat in the back of a Coffee, Cake, Meet and Greet session, in the hope that no one would notice the imposter in the room. Everyone seemed so proud of their imperfections; so willing to discuss the vulnerability of their struggles. Something about the cultural hub made it okay to dance in the rain, the sun and the snow.

I have since fallen in love with Mansions of the Future’s interdisciplinary programme. It has something for everyone. Whether it be exhibitions, talks, workshops, communal lunches, public art projects or events; the team work tirelessly to maintain a culture centring around artists and citizens.

The Takeover Programme, which enables locals to cultivate their own initiatives, has seen over 70 regular groups using the free space. With thanks to the designs of inaugural artist, Kathrin Böhm, the ground floor is fully accessible, meaning disability inclusion is a key component to its success. From the perspective of an advocate for the disabled community, I am inspired by the integration the project has been able to achieve in its three-year lifespan. Without a doubt, this is a result of the team’s ethos to welcome and nurture the diversity already existing in Lincoln.

Mansions of the Future is entering its final months, which leaves us wondering where we’ll find the level of connection it’s offered to so many. What’s certain though, is it has made its mark within the city. It has offered a space where disabled people are valued, yet their disability is imperceptible. In providing a platform for different disciplines to meet, Mansions of the Future has led by example: To drive in your own lane whilst encouraging and applauding others who do the same.

I don’t claim to be an expert, but from my lived experience of disability, there seems to be an overarching notion that disabled people have to fit in a disability-shaped box. ‘You can’t be an artist because you can’t dance or hold a paintbrush’. In reality, it doesn’t work that way. Humanity is multifaceted: we are not defined by any one thing. By funding projects akin to Mansions of the Future, we dispel that myth. If more people living with a disability had the opportunity to engage with their creative culture, then perhaps the 4% statistic would be significantly higher.

Jo Tolley is one of The Lincolnite's first generation Community Voices columnists. She describes herself as a 'curious curtain twitcher' and a budding freelance writer. She believes that everyone has a right to have their voices heard. "It's my life's goal to make a real difference and show that people can achieve their dreams, regardless of their situation." Jo has Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy and believes that the arts provide freedom and independence for all. 

+ More stories