Everyone has walked passed it. It’s a certain doorway on Carver St, just past Freshmans and Babylon, but just before Walkabout, right on the corner. It is commonly used as a brief shelter and haven, a temple to pray to the black cab god on a late and rainy night. A close and trusted source […]

Everyone has walked passed it. It’s a certain doorway on Carver St, just past Freshmans and Babylon, but just before Walkabout, right on the corner. It is commonly used as a brief shelter and haven, a temple to pray to the black cab god on a late and rainy night. A close and trusted source tipped me off that as opposed to being a drunken clubbers’ cave, it was actually the HQ of a growing force in social music development, and like Pavlov’s dog with that ringing still in my ears, I sprang straight into action to check it out and get involved.

After a number of weeks of volunteering I met with Christine and Ruth, who were more than happy to talk about their organisation.

In a nut shell, who are you and what do you do?

We are Star Enterprise Work and Play, which is a social enterprise and a limited company based in Sheffield. The organisation is driven by people with learning disabilities. We run club nights called Under the Stars and regular music workshops called Reach 4 the Stars. It’s a place to work and socialise in a safe environment.

What are the aims and values of the group?

Providing and nurturing supportive relationships. Our events and workshops help people with learning disabilities to socialise, have fun, meet up with old friends and make new ones. We also aim to empower and enable people with learning disabilities, offering them a voice, which in turn increases confidence and independence.

Finally we work to challenge barriers, to create a strong and sustainable community to support people with learning disabilities. We want to continue to raise awareness and model good practice.

How does an organisation like this start out?

It all started when a group of like-minded people who were working with people with learning disabilities in the voluntary and public sector got together to run a one-off nightclub in Sheffield. People were tired of having to travel as far away as Leeds, Nottingham and Manchester to go for a night out.

We set ourselves up as a community group and a management committee was formed in 2006. We had a small amount of start-up funding from Sheffield City Council and opened a bank account. The first club night was very successful and people were asking when the next one was. From the beginning, people with learning disabilities have been involved every step of the way.

We had a competition to come up with the name and design the logo. The name Under the Stars was chosen and the first event was held in 2007.

From a one-off club night, how much has Under the Stars grown?

We now hold four successful nights a year at The Hubs in the city centre, with an average attendance of around 600. Since 2010, we have also been organising monthly Under the Stars nights in other parts of South Yorkshire, running clubs and events in Doncaster, Barnsley and Rotherham. These are all proving really popular.

All our DJs are people with a learning disability and the live music acts at the nightclub provide a showcase for talent from within the community as well.

How is the organisation run?

We have a strong and enthusiastic board of directors, and key roles are shadowed by a person with a learning disability. There are also two family carers on the board. We are fortunate to have a loyal and committed bank of volunteers who support at the nights and fundraising events.

A quarter of our income is generated through our club nights and workshops, which is all reinvested into developing the organisation further.

Tell us more about these other activities…

We now co-ordinate music and entertainment for events run by Sheffield City Council and other organisations to increase learning disability awareness. Last year we launched a creative workshop programme running sessions in dance, music and DJing, in conjunction with Musical Works, an arts education agency. They are experienced in providing creative activities and workshops across South Yorkshire. The tutors leading the Reach 4 the Stars workshops have over 30 years combined experience delivering workshops and are all musicians themselves.

What about future plans?

After the success of last month’s event with Martyn Ware from Heaven 17, we are planning more club nights and are also running an Under the Stars stage at this year’s Tramlines Festival. This will happen at the Hubs on Saturday 23rd July and we will be showcasing talent from the North’s learning disability community, as well as our own musicians and DJs.

We also have a resident band at Reach 4 the Stars who have named themselves The Stars. They are developing their skills in songwriting and live performances, playing original material and covers like ‘Creep’. They have also produced and edited a music video that is now online.

For more information about Star Enterprise Work and Play club nights, events, workshops and volunteering, visit underthestars.org.uk

Interview by M.D.J.