Who Are We?

Anita and Emile Woolf first set up Maxability as a fund-raising company in 2009, in response to the severe curtailment of public provision for adults with physical disabilities. The individuals assisted by Maxability have all their mental faculties and are therefore capable, given the right environment, of developing abilities that are comparable with those of anyone else.

Anita and Emile’s son, Carl Woolf, is deaf and physically disabled – and they have created this charity to help him and many others like him. (For more about Carl, see Carl’s Story.)

What Do We Do?

In recent years, a range of artistic and creative activities has been provided at Flightways (Barnet Council’s ‘drop-in’ centre, situated in the heart of a council estate in Colindale). The individuals using Flightways have varying disabilities, such as deafness, cerebral palsy, spasticity and other conditions, which impair their chances of employment in the community. The level of frustration and isolation experienced by those who fall into this group can be extreme.

In the early 2000s, centres like Flightways were being closed down all over the UK because it was decided that disabled people would receive personal budgets and decide how to spend their own money. At the same time, local councils began outsourcing services to private companies. In Barnet, Your Choice Barnet (YCB) was established to assist service users in accessing activities in the community. This idea sounded positive but turned out to be very difficult to implement, as no dedicated transport was provided and there were too few choices of activity available. Outside courses at colleges were attempted but usually proved to be more expensive than service users could afford to pay out of their personal budgets. In addition, many of them did not enjoy having to travel so much and sometimes found themselves in unsuitable settings. For instance, the bustling atmosphere of a busy further education college was not suitable for very disabled people or language-impaired deaf disabled people.

This is the gap that Maxability has filled. Maxability provides the courses and YCB provides the health and safety care. At first, YCB did not want a centre. It has taken time and effort to resolve our differences but we have now developed a good working relationship which will benefit our attendees. They are thus able to meet, socialise and follow courses suited to their needs in a sympathetic, safe environment.

Maxibility gradually took over funding of the activities within the centre, and we are now the sole provider of funds needed to support the classes in art, pottery, photography and British Sign Language. The quality of the work produced by our attendees has improved greatly over the past three years and there is a lively demand for the pottery, paintings and cards they create.

We registered Maxability as a charity in 2015. Our research suggests that it may be the sole provider of such services in the whole of London.

Why is Maxability Needed?

Although Britain is a relatively affluent country, some of our most vulnerable citizens have been affected by austerity measures that have caused them great suffering and frustration.

Over the past 10 years, Maxability has been helping adults with a wide range of disabilities, such as deaf people with additional physical disabilities and those who have suffered the effects of debilitating illnesses or accidents. Severe disabilities prevent these individuals from finding employment. Yet they have exactly the same desires, aspirations and talents as anyone else.

Adults with multiple physical disabilities have been neglected for many years, and their few facilities have been systematically stripped away. Now, through charitable funding, Maxability seeks to create a safe, secure environment in which they can flourish and achieve independence and self-respect.

What Happened in the Past?

In the 1970s a centre called Flightways was established in the Grahame Park Estate in Colindale, Barnet. Specialist staff members were employed to offer training in a wide range of subjects. Over two hundred users attended the training sessions, and there were four dedicated buses to transport them. An on-site kitchen provided nourishing lunches. Some of the more able trainees even found employment.

This centre (entirely funded by the London Borough of Barnet) continued to flourish until the 1990s, when cuts were introduced and many of the courses were dropped. Nevertheless, the physically disabled community carried on using Flightways. Even though the building became increasingly run-down, and fewer stimulating activities were offered, their need for companionship remained.

A new era dawned, bringing personal budgets and personal carers and more apparent opportunities for disabled people to make their own choices. Yet at the same time, those who attended Flightways were increasingly distressed as it became clear that the centre’s future was under threat.

Over the last few years, Maxability has provided creative activities at Flightways. These courses have included pottery, photography, painting and other crafts, and attendees have produced work of which they are intensely and justly proud. Much of it is of very high quality, and sales have helped generate funding for further creative ventures. Because our service users are able to use their personal budgets to meet the cost, they benefit from these classes at a much-reduced cost.

What Is Happening Now?

In 2016, Maxability managed to negotiate a five-year lease with Barnet Council. This will enable us to continue running our classes in Colindale, North London.

Although government cuts have affected many aspects of social care, Your Choice Barnet is legally obliged to support disabled people who wish to participate in our courses, by providing transport and the health and safety care some of our participants require. Maxability continues to provide high-quality, fully funded courses at no cost to Barnet Council. Our courses are the only affordable creative art classes currently available in the borough.

There have been some very positive developments recently. We have been given two extra rooms for office space and much-needed storage, and we have received a donation from a private trust that will help support our work.

We have also been able to buy (at a very reasonable price) a lot of equipment from a retired potter, including an extra kiln. Our brilliant pottery teacher is willing to teach extra hours for us so we are more than ready to increase our numbers.

We are currently working very hard to promote Maxability’s profile in order to expand our intake of students. The work we are producing in the studio amazes all who see it, and we have succeeded in demonstrating that our participants have gained real expertise in art and pottery. Although their work is already sold at our fund-raising concerts and to members of the public who see it, we would like to find further sales outlets. We will therefore need to employ someone to promote our classes and find outlets for the beautiful work we are producing.

In conclusion, we now have a secure base from which to grow, but we also have a great deal of work ahead.

What Do Maxability’s Service Users Need?

  1. A central Hub where members are free to meet, socialise and interact:
    • Where they will feel safe and secure
    • Where they can find stimulation through tuition and training
    • Where they can undertake activities that have commercial value and will produce extra income for the centre.
  2. A manager, with four or five professional staff and volunteers (as required) to:
    • Run the central Hub and its facilities
    • Provide training and creative activities.
  3. Dedicated transport (a bus with an allocated driver) to allow members to:
    • Spend more time at the Hub
    • Avoid wasting hours waiting for private taxis
    • Facilitate outings and group visits to places of interest.
  4. A well-designed kitchen in the Hub to:
    • Provide cookery courses, taking into account the nature of members’ disabilities.
  5. Café facilities in the Hub to:
    • Serve reasonably priced hot and cold drinks and healthy food.
  6. A studio to:
    • Provide courses in photography, IT, printing, art, music, pottery and British Sign Language (BSL).
  7. A shop to:
    • Sell the crafts produced on site.
  8. A room to:
    • Be used for exercise, physiotherapy and relaxation.
  9. An IT room to:
    • House the computers and technical equipment needed for training.
  10. Toilets (adapted for people with physical disabilities where necessary) and changing-room facilities.

What Are Maxability’s Plans?

It is clear that what we currently provide is highly valued by the service users, their families and the community as a whole. Our medium-term vision is to provide a safe, inclusive and flexible community space in which disabled people will feel able to express their creative talents fully. In the long-term future, we envisage a lively centre that will also attract other members of the community to participate in some activities.

This space will be a community asset, which will be open to the public for a variety of uses. The centre will be at least partially self-sustaining, through the sale of pottery, crafts, paintings and cards. We may also be able to generate income through hosting a café and by renting out space to other like-minded enterprises such as mother-and-baby and toddler groups.