Mind the Gap’s Executive Director named in New Year Honours List

Julia reflects on the experience in our final blog of 2022: Taking one for the team!

A headshot of Julia Skelton MBE. She is a white middle aged woman with hazel eyes and short curly red hair. She is wearing an orange woollen tartan dress with blue sleeves. The photo is taken outside in front of a black metal frame.

Well, what a funny old year 2022 has been. I was relieved and delighted to return to live working again. At the same time, I’ve found the speed and intensity with which we’ve emerged from the series of Covid lockdowns quite disorientating.

So, it was a slightly frazzled me who opened the email from the Cabinet Office saying I’d been nominated for an MBE. My first reaction was to assume it was a hoax! Having established via a trusted colleague that it wasn’t … my second reaction was to be very embarrassed, having spent many years working hard to put others in the limelight.

To help unpick my feelings I quietly consulted with a small number of friends and family members … whose reactions ranged from pride, bemusement, joy, tears and listing illustrious people who have accepted, and declined, the award!

Having reflected on it for a few weeks, I’ve now settled on why I am pleased and proud (if still slightly embarrassed) to receive an MBE.

Firstly, and most importantly, this is truly a team award. Some people get nominated for an MBE for their individual endeavours. Not me though – without question this recognition is for Mind the Gap and everyone – past, present and future – who’s contributed to the company’s success. In particular, the fantastic learning disabled and autistic artists who underpin everything we do and what we are about. And for those who collaborate artistically and more broadly so the company can create and tour work, and support skills development.

Secondly, I hope it plays a role in promoting the value of the subsidised arts and cultural sector, particularly in the Bradford District as we work towards UK City of Culture 2025. We are facing so many immediate and long-term challenges right now – economic, social, political – including of course existential questions raised by climate change. I’m intensely aware how many areas in life need and deserve public investment. But I remain committed – as I have done for the last 30+ years working in the arts sector – of the power of creativity to make life better for everyone.

Finally, I’m passionate about women being recognised for their endeavours. I was only the second person in my immediate family to go into Higher Education. This was only possible because a) it was free at the point of entry and b) the unwavering support and confidence of my family – particularly my parents and my amazing Grandma. I’m just one of 1000s of women who plug away day in, day out, to further the success of things they believe in. I’m pleased to accept this award in celebration of all women’s achievements, especially those living and working in the north.

So, as I step into 2023, it’s with a little bit of extra energy and determination to play my part in making it a creative, hopeful and compassionate new year – partly through the recognition of an MBE but mostly because of my continued dedication to improve access in the arts for people with learning disabilities and autism.

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