Challenging the perception of people with learning disabilities by empowering and enriching lives through music.
A collaboration of professional musicians and adults with learning disabilities to write, experience and perform music at small pubs, big festivals, live radio and everything in between. Meeting weekly in Rickmansworth, Hemel Hempstead and Watford (Hertfordshire) Electric Umbrella offer 60 adults with learning disabilities countless opportunities to get on stage alongside professional musicians and show the public at large what they CAN do, challenging the perception of people with learning disabilities with thousands of people each year.
We believe there is no ‘us and them’, and are on a mission to challenge people to think differently about learning disabilities. Co-creation and a ‘can do’ attitude is at the heart of what Electric Umbrella is all about.
Becoming a member involves signing up to a ‘season’ of Electric Umbrella at one of our three sites in Hertfordshire. Each season includes weekly music sessions, touring and performances opportunities. All members are over the age of 18 and whilst are of extremely mixed abilities, the experiences are tailored to meet and be led by the needs of each individual. Electric Umbrella works with 60 adults with learning disabilities each week, and members are at the heart of everything we do.
The reach of Electric Umbrella goes way beyond the members we work with each week. Electric Umbrella has become a community for our members and their families, also encompassing the musicians we work with and hundreds of others that experience the joy of Electric Umbrella by attending our gigs and events.
What is it like to be a member of Electric Umbrella?
It’s all about MUSIC, JOY, FRIENDSHIP, TOGETHERNESS, MAGIC, WONDER and LAUGHTER.
Each week we get together to write and record songs, play instruments, sing karaoke, eat lunch, hang out… It’s just like being in a band! We have visiting artists and workshops and everyone gets their chance to be involved on whatever level they want to. We support each other and are a great bunch of friends.
How it all began
In 2013, musician Tom Billington and Art therapist Mel Boda recognised a lack of opportunities for adults with learning disabilities to express themselves and represent who they really are, and started running workshops and putting on shows with no funding or support.
“It all happened very organically, we had a small but very dedicated and wonderful group of people who were up for working with us so we just started… we had no idea what it was going to turn into.”
Since then we have run over 700 hours of music workshops, performed to thousands of people at gigs across hundreds of shows including our very own UMBRELLAFEST which enjoyed its second successful year this year.
We became a registered charity in January 2016 and are now looking for consistent funding streams to continue our work.
“What Tom and Mel have created is nothing short of amazing. They have developed an approach that pulls everyone in, where everyone is valued and nothing is impossible. It’s loud and proud, bold and it’s beautiful.” Jo Webb, Producer and musician.
The reach of Electric Umbrella goes way beyond the 60 members that come every week. Electric Umbrella has become a community for the members and their extended families and networks and also encompasses the musicians they work with and hundreds of others that experience the joy of Electric Umbrella by attending our gigs and events.
Directors Tom and Mel.
Electric Umbrella is run by Tom Billington (Artistic Director) and Mel Boda (Managing Director) who have both extensive experience of both community arts, the professional world of entertainment, and supporting adults with disabilities.
Tom is a professional musician with vast experience of being in bands, touring and making records together with writing music for circus, TV and film, community work and education. Tom has an exceptional gift for working with people with complex needs and sharing the joy of music.
Mel is a visual artist and HCPC registered art therapist with extensive experience of community arts management and working alongside adults with learning disabilities.