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UK’s first disability arts collection and archive opens at Bucks New University

UK’s first disability arts collection and archive opens at Bucks New University

Buckinghamshire New University has declared its commitment to ensuring that the newly-opened National Disability Arts Collection and Archive (NDACA) will become a world leading resource in education about the disability arts movement.

The archive and repository is the first physical location of its kind dedicated to Britain’s disability arts movement and features more than 3,500 pieces of artwork.

The new NDACA Learning Wing at the University’s High Wycombe Campus was officially opened on Thursday (May 2).

The University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Nick Braisby, said at a launch: “We were founded more than 125 years ago and throughout our history have opened our doors to people who would otherwise have been excluded from education.

“In the sector, there is an attainment gap where non-disabled students perform better than disabled students, but not at Buckinghamshire New University, where disabled students represent around 12% of our student population and are thriving.

“We hope that our commitment to NDACA becomes a symbol of our overall commitment to supporting achievement among disabled people.

“We are excited about welcoming researchers, heritage professionals and those interested in this important area of the UK’s cultural identity to Bucks New University, as well as drawing on the archive to enrich our courses and research.”


Guests at the launch included Darren Henley OBE, Chief Executive of Arts Council England, who was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Bucks New University in 2014; London 2012 Paralympic rowing gold medallist Naomi Riches; Vicky Hope-Walker, Project Manager at the National Paralympic Heritage Trust, based at Stoke Mandeville Stadium in Buckinghamshire; and Martin McElhatton, Chief Executive of WheelPower, the National Charity for Wheelchair Sport, also based at Stoke Mandeville Stadium.

Sculptor and artist Tony Heaton OBE, who conceived the concept of the archive, said Bucks New University had ‘a strong commitment to equality, diversity, and social justice, and the vision to recognise the value of NDACA’.

He added: “NDACA will protect the art, words, images and spirit of so many extraordinary disabled people, artists, activists, and supporters, without whom there would be no history to record and preserve, and no art and poetry.

“NDACA will protect their art, words, images and spirit, and I hope in years to come others will see the human value and protect, preserve, promote and grow NDACA.”

London 2012 Paralympic rowing gold medallist and graduate of Bucks New University Naomi Riches said: “It was wonderful to attend the launch of NDACA and I am incredible pleased that Bucks is its home. I knew from my first visit that Bucks was the best place for me to study my chosen subject, Jewellery and Silversmithing; I felt supported from the outset and my visual impairment was never a problem.

“When I took up sport in my second year, the university helped me to balance my studies and my sport very effectively which allowed me to succeed in both.  As ever I am proud to have studied at Bucks and to be able to give something back as an Alumni.”

The NDACA wing at Bucks New University is designed to be inclusive, with hydraulic desks for wheelchair users, computers to access the digital collection, and original artefacts from the disability arts movement.

It includes an analogue timeline featuring publications and pieces inspired by the archive, a quiet room for study, and a chill-out space.

The creation of NDACA has been led by disability-led arts organisation Shape Arts and funded primarily by the National Lottery Heritage Lottery Fund, with further funding from Arts Council England and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

The launch marked the culmination of a three-year research project led by Project Director and Shape CEO, David Hevey, and coordinated by Archivist Alex Cowan.

The opening of the NDACA learning wing follows the launch of the archive’s digital arm at the House of Lords in June 2018.

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Picture (above): l-r Archivist Alex Cowan, Tony Heaton OBE and Research Reader at Bucks New University Helena Chance.