Max Bailey and Varied Ability

“We arranged for this pioneering Disability Arts artist from London to come to here as part of the Rampant tour. We were used to basket weaving and other such day centre arts and crafts activities here in Walsall. As I stood there wide-eyed while he threw himself out of his wheelchair in an ‘artistic’ display of passion I leaned over to Max and said: ’I’m not quite sure Walsall is ready for this mate…!’”

Donna Mendonca, Project Manager, Social Care and Inclusion, Walsall Council

Amongst a sea of community arts Luddites, Max Bailey was a pioneer of new technology. Many years ago he was quick to realise that technology needed to be at everyone’s fingertips in the fight against inequality. His project PEALS helped scores of people from single moms to out-of-work steel men access the Internet for the first time and learn how to use a computer. PEALS earned him the respect of the Black Country Consortium, leading to work across the other Black Country boroughs as well as Walsall. They loved the way he could communicate their corporate messages to a community audience in a language they not only understood, but responded to.

Working across the Black Country gave Max more access to European funding which opened the door to many wonderful, inclusive programmes of work. He hated the idea of anyone being excluded from the arts – and indeed life in general – because of circumstance.

He had a passionate interest in Arts and Health, and Arts and Disability, which led to the EQUAL programme and later Working Parts, forging regional unity across the Black Country. But Max had his sights set on an international platform…

Following the success of the incredible disability arts programme Rampant Tour and the moving, thought-provoking multi-media production Barriers, Max decided the voice of local disabled people should be heard more clearly. He literally set wheels in motion to enable a group of chair-users and people with a variety of impairments to take on the European Parliament in Brussels and have their say in a meeting with MEPs, putting their case for what eventually became the new Disability Discrimination Act. Some of the group had never travelled before, some had never even slept away from home. Their sense of achievement was indescribable and will live with the Team forever.

Max was often the first to pick up on national initiatives, striving to give them a creative twist that would engage with and make relevant to our communities. He worked with business leaders for example to produce our own Social Enterprise toolkit, leading many people to find a new way of working, and he introduced us all to Social Marketing, promoting positive behaviour change for the benefit of the community.

One of the Social Marketing projects, working with Walsall taxi drivers to improve their health and wellbeing, was chosen as an international case study. Max sent Kim and Rachel over to Dublin to present the study at a conference, where they were astounded and delighted to be in the company of the Dali Lama. Knowing their boss’s fondness for this great leader they excitedly text him to share the joyous news. Problem was, working life with Max was so full of laughs and banter, he thought this was just another rib-tickler and politely suggested they get on with the job in hand!