Circability Central a “big happy family”

11 August 2016
By Daniela Pavez 
Fun, friendships and physical challenges are all part of the daily routine at Circability Central. Located in central Auckland, it’s developing opportunities and removing barriers by providing a creative space for all ages and abilities.

MP Jacinda Ardern presents the Arts Access Award 2016 to Tania Flowers and Frances KelleherCircability Central is the recipient of the Arts Access Creative Space Award 2016. The judging panel commended its inclusion and celebration of difference. “Circability Central is a model of inclusive practice, offering a diverse range of activities across the community and building exciting partnerships.”

Circability Trust runs programmes aimed at changing attitudes towards disabled people and enhancing their participation. More than 100 people participate in the classes with half of the participants having a physical or intellectual impairment.

Nathan Child, for example, has been an enthusiastic participant of the Circability Central community for the past four years. “Being part of the circus is what I like the most.  It is a big thing for me. I like all my friends there and I like our circus instructors too. We are a big happy family, living happily ever after.”

Nathan, the bass player in the rock band called the Mutes from Mars, combines his musical talents, painting and acting with his circus classes. At the hub, he learns acrobatics, hula hoops and juggling.

Circability Central performers with Cirque du Soleil's Totem crewHe was also one of the performers of Tubabo, a 15-minute show performed in 2014 for Cirque du Soleil’s Totem Crew in Auckland. “That was like the greatest thing ever. They really liked our show.”

Thomas Hinz and Frances Kelliher, Co-Directors of the Circability Trust, have been providing inclusive circus programmes for more than 20 years. 

Thomas, originally from Germany, worked in a factory where he shared duties with people with disabilities. After he discovered they didn’t have anything to do after work, he started a Youth Club with sports and leisure activities.

Amazed by the “incredible” artistic potential of the group, Thomas founded Circus Fantasia in 1995, a place where people with disabilities could gain new physical and social skills.

In 2003, back in New Zealand, Thomas and his wife Frances started a similar project in Dargaville called Circus Kumarani.

Exploring new possibilities

The positive response from the community inspired the couple to continue exploring new possibilities and endeavours. Then in 2012, they set up the Circability Trust in Auckland.

Circability Central performersIn partnership with Toi Ora live Art Trust and the Giant Leap Foundation, they ran Circolina’s Leap, a 12-week project where people from the Deaf community interacted with hearing people, people with lived experienced of mental illness, and people with physical or intellectual disabilities. The partnership received the Arts Access CQ Hotels Wellington Community Partnership Award 2013.For Frances, the interaction of people in an inclusive atmosphere is the “big thing” about Circability Central.

“Obviously, there are a lot of benefits in terms of physical literacy but creating the opportunity for people to come together, have fun and make friends is very important.”

Participants also gain self-confidence through stage performances, and also develop life skills such as team work and how to manage risk, she adds.

Frances Kelliher, Co-Director, Circability CentralLooking ahead, Frances and the team would like to expand their reach in the community with more workshops, circus challenges, exhibitions and performances. She would also like the circus to be more sustainable with a reliable source of income.

Commenting on the importance of Circability Central as a social enterprise, Frances says: “We have created a very inclusive, unique community experience and people talk about that.” 

Circability Central is based at Campbell Free Kindergarten, a historical building in Victoria Park.

“People are really happy because for many years the building was abandoned, with broken windows and the space not used. Auckland Council gave us a community lease on the building and it’s an honour for us to be the custodians,” she comments.

Through the years, the trust has become a model of inclusive practice. As Silke Carter, Hohepa Auckland’s Development Director, says: “By engaging the creative approach through circus, art and confidence-building work, Circability Trust has proven repeatedly that bridges can be built.”

Circability Central a “big happy family”


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