The RISE Canberra Podcast

Fiona Harris and Karen Champion - Podcast 5

July 26, 2020 Jen Seyderhelm
The RISE Canberra Podcast
Fiona Harris and Karen Champion - Podcast 5
Chapters
The RISE Canberra Podcast
Fiona Harris and Karen Champion - Podcast 5
Jul 26, 2020
Jen Seyderhelm

Welcome to the fifth RISE Canberra Podcast!

In this episode Jen Seyderhelm is in conversation with early childhood educator and facilitator of Art For Aged Care, Fiona Harris and Karen Champion, who works in the disability sector and started the Northside Recreation Group Disco. Fiona creates arts activities to build a pathway between the elderly with her group of young children, meanwhile Karen runs discos for those living with a disability. Both speak of watching participants come alive and the importance of music, painting, dance and connection to all human beings.

Produced by Events ACT, RISE Canberra is your new home for experiencing local events and to find new ways to connect audiences with experiences made in the ACT by local makers, creators, artists and businesses.

You can find out more here.

Each fortnight Jen talks to Canberra creators, getting to know more about the approaches they're using to deliver events during these times. Check out the rest of the RISE Calendar online at www.risecanberra.com - where you can find out more about other innovative offerings from Canberra creators on the RISE News page and keep up to date with the Where You Are Festival, on till September.

The RISE Canberra Podcast is produced by Events ACT. The music is Three Times by Dawn by The Screaming Zucchinis.

Show Notes Transcript

Welcome to the fifth RISE Canberra Podcast!

In this episode Jen Seyderhelm is in conversation with early childhood educator and facilitator of Art For Aged Care, Fiona Harris and Karen Champion, who works in the disability sector and started the Northside Recreation Group Disco. Fiona creates arts activities to build a pathway between the elderly with her group of young children, meanwhile Karen runs discos for those living with a disability. Both speak of watching participants come alive and the importance of music, painting, dance and connection to all human beings.

Produced by Events ACT, RISE Canberra is your new home for experiencing local events and to find new ways to connect audiences with experiences made in the ACT by local makers, creators, artists and businesses.

You can find out more here.

Each fortnight Jen talks to Canberra creators, getting to know more about the approaches they're using to deliver events during these times. Check out the rest of the RISE Calendar online at www.risecanberra.com - where you can find out more about other innovative offerings from Canberra creators on the RISE News page and keep up to date with the Where You Are Festival, on till September.

The RISE Canberra Podcast is produced by Events ACT. The music is Three Times by Dawn by The Screaming Zucchinis.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Welcome to the RISE Canberra podcast produced by Events ACT. RISE Canberra is your new home for experiencing local events. Finding new ways to connect audiences with experiences made right here in the ACT by local makers, creators, artists, and businesses. You can find out more at risecanberra.com. Each fortnight we'll be in conversation with Canberra creators and getting to know more about the approaches they're using to deliver events during these times. I'm Jen Seyderhelm, and in this episode, we're speaking with Fiona Harris, Early Childhood Educator, and facilitator of Art For Aged Care and Karen Champion who works in the Disability Sector and runs the Northside Recreation Group Disco.

Fiona Harris:

My name is Fiona Harris. I was born in Canberra at Canberra Hospital. I'm an early childhood educator in Canberra, and I'm also the facilitator of an inter generational learning program at my workplace.

Jen Seyderhelm:

What did you want to be when you grew up Fi?

Fiona Harris:

Look, I really wanted to be an astronaut, but the selection process was a bit too stringent. So I just love being creative. I love being out in my community and I love children.

Jen Seyderhelm:

I just love that you actually said then that the selection process was too stringent, which means you went through the selection process. Do you know, I went down recently to a STEM event here in Canberra, where they brought in some of the NASA people who are out at Mount Stromlo. And they were saying how girls are perfect as astronauts, because he was saying how boys are boofy . And they thud into things where he said the perfect person to be an astronaut is someone who's a dancer because they can move in literal space.

Fiona Harris:

I love dancing. Well , yeah, but you know what Jen? Dancing is probably one of my top five things. Just ask my husband, but I read about the training and do you know why I would fail it's because I get really bad motion sickness.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Right? Yeah. That is a downside

Fiona Harris:

They apparently put you in this contraption and it's like the Canberra Show octopus on steroids. And you just like ,

Jen Seyderhelm:

Let's go back in time a little bit. You said you were Canberra born and bred. What do you feel about Canberra?

Fiona Harris:

I just love Canberra. It's where I grew up and I had a really wonderful childhood. I grew up in Kambah and Monash. So the Tuggeranong region, it's a lovely place to grow up. There's lots of nature, reserves and parks. And my mum's a teacher. We were always just well looked after we were allowed to ride our bikes up to the shops to get chips , which I think you got $2, it bought you more than you could eat. And we used to play spotlight on the street on Saturday nights and growing up in Canberra, I think really shapes your value system for when you're an adult. I have an immense love and respect for nature and wide open spaces, which I think if I grew up in a city with a higher density of living, perhaps those things wouldn't mean so much to me. And particularly what's happened with the pandemic. I mean, if I didn't have that connection to nature and to my garden, that's very strong for me and has made me just so positive to be out in the garden in these times. And I have Canberra to thank for that. I really believe it.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Well, you strike me as being an immensely positive person. I can't imagine you any other way.

Fiona Harris:

It's true.

Jen Seyderhelm:

I know that for you, that you did the big step of moving out of the public service for a more creative life. In my research of you, I've just found that you've got your fingers in so many creative pies and I was looking at it all and I was going, I love this woman. I love everything about this woman. But in one of those stories, there was that, I stepped away from this because it just wasn't fulfilling me. And from that day onwards, what was the catalyst for change for you?

Fiona Harris:

I've had a few of those moments in my life. I think the public service in Canberra is a wonderful thing and it's offered so many people, including my parents, both of my parents, they moved up from Melbourne to work in the public service. So without the public service, I wouldn't be here. But there's a lot of red tape . There's a lot of bureaucracy. And for somebody who likes to be creative as much as possible, I found personally the public service to be constraining in that regard.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Yeah. Well, and then also, in the last 18 months or thereabouts, the ABC came out with this remarkable show that I think everyone loved, everyone resonated with, about the Old People's Home for Four Year Olds. And for you, you'd already done ageless play some time beforehand. You already had seen that there was this incredible connection to be made between those towards the end of their life and those at the start of theirs.

Fiona Harris:

Well, I do have an interesting story with that particular group, because one of my very close friends is also called Fiona. I would consider her to be one of my mentors, which she knows, and she started up inter generational playgroups in Canberra. And I was so amazed when I first read about them a few years ago and I just typed her name into Google and it came up with a number to call her on and I just rang her up. And I said, this is me. I've got to get involved with this. And she taught me everything she knew and introduced me to the group that I think grew out of the ABC show. So it was amazing. And I actually went back there, Oh gosh, I don't know how long ago, maybe less than a year ago and got to reconnect with some of the residents and the staff there after they'd become famous. And it was just, wow, it was incredible. It was inspirational. And it was so lovely to see the rest of Australia, the viewers seeing like, what a difference it makes to have the simplest connection with these residents in aged care. And the one that I'm facilitating at the moment, which obviously has stopped, first because of the Bush fires . We couldn't go because to walk the children across, it was, we couldn't do that to them. Of course. And then we were planning going back and then COVID happened. And I remember just ringing them up going, this is going to be indefinitely on hold because we obviously, we just can't risk the health of the residents. But yeah, just so many life changing moments from taking the children over to Bupa Aged Care in Calwell. And I'll never forget the last time we went and it was just a beautiful time. By that stage, the residents and the children had formed relationships, but I was really getting into Cowboys and we played them a song, very famous song from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly by Ennio Moricone. Everyone knows that song. I won't, I won't destroy it by (whistling and banging on the desk). I think I could do it. Yeah. I learned this at Scouts it goes like there's a bit of a tune. It's an amazing song. And you know, I had my cowboy hat on and we were just running around with the children in a circle. And we were going hyaaahh on our imaginary horses and just the faces of the residents. There were so happy and they were happy to be able to experience this vibrant energy that the children just bring. And I remember when we left and they all just started clapping and it was about 20 to 25 residents and they're all just staring at us clapping. And they were just, you know, like we're not trained. The children don't even know the words to half the songs that we sing, but something was happening, the energy and the connection that made me think I'm going to do this forever in some way. So it really changed my trajectory.

Jen Seyderhelm:

One of the most amazing things about young children is that if they want to tell you something, they will happily tell you 10 times and that, in the television show, and just in that relationship is just one of those things that we have, not the patience for, but the old and the young can hear the same story in different ways and quite happily because it's the listening. Yeah . And I get it.

Fiona Harris:

I'm really glad you mentioned that because something happens when you put older people, quite older people together with quite young people, I would seriously call it magic because it's almost like they're both at a stage in their lives where there's no facade anymore, no facade anymore. For the older generation, the younger generation haven't learnt to build that facade. So you get this beautiful, just, I don't know, intuitive honesty, I guess, is what I would call it. They just get each other. And it's just a beautiful space to be in because no one's wearing any mask . Everyone's very upfront and honest with each other. And it's just, to me, it's what life is all should be all about is just being a community and connecting without all the bullshit.

Jen Seyderhelm:

One of the things I have to describe because people can't see you is your outfit. You are vibrantly coloured, but I tend to be one of those people who is very loud, but feel that sort of need to subdue myself sometimes because of where I am and you're wearing a kind of tiara and I have my cats ears in the car and I'm so sad that I didn't come in and wear them. And the two of us could have been sitting here.

Fiona Harris:

I know I've got cat's ears too.

Jen Seyderhelm:

And unicorn horn?

Fiona Harris:

A unicorn horn attached to a unicorn wig. My husband doesn't know what to do with me Jen.

Jen Seyderhelm:

No, well, neither does mine, but he's used to it. My friends are used to it. I feel like the world needs more Fiona's. Let's go back to what we were just talking about how COVID shut the, just going across the road and that face to face interaction, but you've adapted, which is why we're here today. We're talking about what you're doing with the Where You Are Festival, which is Art For Aged Care. So tell me about how that evolved out of the COVID situation.

Fiona Harris:

Yeah. So I'm an arts graduate from the art school at the ANU, and art's always been incredibly important to me. I'm a terrible artist, but I love the process. And I think everybody should do the process regardless of what the result is. People that love art are young people, because again, they haven't learned how to critique their own work. So if you give them any sort of medium, they will go at it like a bull at a gate and you get these incredible Jackson Pollock kind images where it's just vibrant and it's energy and it's, they don't care because they're not thinking or how will this be critiqued or will people like this? They just create it. And I think that's beautiful. So we've always done a lot of art at my early childhood centre and we've got a wonderful team. My director is amazing and she's really into art as well. So when we couldn't see our friends next door anymore for the foreseeable future Jen, like there was no, we still don't know when we'll see them again. And obviously aged care the outcomes for them are quite substantial. I was just lying in bed and I was thinking, what can we do? I have some web design experience. I love social media. And as you know, I love coming up with crazy ideas. And so it all just came together. I love aged care. That's going to be a big part of my future career. I love art and I love children and I'm working with art and children and so to me, it was an easy thing to create that could help us retain those connections digitally. It's not as good obviously, but it's something. And I think it will pull us through.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Mm . I think it will too. And now on the other side of things, I found that for people who are terminally ill or aged, all of a sudden, and it comes back to what we said in the previous conversation about losing the facade. You stop worrying about if your art's good enough. And so many people start to paint because they've always wanted to, but they've always had that inner voice saying I can't do that when their time is limited. That experience again, at both ends of your lives. If you're lucky enough to be able to practice in arts while you're our age , then fantastic. That's hard enough with the COVID experience right now, too. But I just feel like, again, the relate-ability of just children's arts and then seniors arts connecting in together.

Fiona Harris:

There's a lot going on with things like art therapy and music therapy, which I've never studied. Apparently you can deep dive that stuff. I'm learning as much as I can via Google. But yeah, like you said, it's just got incredible healing powers. I think as humans, we're designed to create stuff and make stuff. It's what we did thousands of years ago. And then suddenly we're thrusting to these environments with computers and with social media and with our phones where we haven't had that chance to kind of step back and start creating again. And I think that is one of the silver linings of this whole coronavirus business is that people have that time again to spend with their kids, to buy some paint and to just splash it around. Cause they've got nothing else to do. And I think people are discovering that to write a journal or to write a new bit of music or even to sit and listen to music mindfully, or to look at a painting mindfully to have that time makes them feel good. And they don't, I think sometimes a lot of people don't really know why, but I think it's because intrinsically that's what we're meant to be doing expressing ourselves.

Jen Seyderhelm:

I couldn't agree more. And on top of that, because we , our previous normal life, if you had spare time, you'd be like, Oh, I better do the washing up or do this or do that. Whatever. But in this COVID experience, because we've been stuck at home that spare time, all of a sudden you can be like, well, I might just make something

Fiona Harris:

Amazing things. People are writing, more people are journaling. People are painting. Hundreds of people. Thousands of people even are getting chalk. I tried to find chalk at the beginning of the pandemic and it was all sold out. Jen. You could not buy rainbow chalk anywhere. I've since bought some. But yeah, I think that sort of thing is a great example of just how people have time to do that. Now they have time to sit down and go to their street corner and create something beautiful out of chalk. Yeah , I think it's great

Jen Seyderhelm:

On that note, two things, firstly, where I live at the moment, one of the trees just in the reserve behind me has a bag of chalk, just sitting at the bottom of the tree with a footpath there. So people can come along and create. And I went down to one of yours and my favorite places, the Green Shed the other day and there was all this chalk there. And I was like, these are all the people who panic bought chalk!

Fiona Harris:

Chalk hoarders! We see you!

Jen Seyderhelm:

Anyway with the Art For Aged Care. Where are you up to in the process? Because you had sort of a deadline to have people sort of get their art together. So what happens now?

Fiona Harris:

So basically what I do every Monday is I gather all of the art that we've done with the children, but also I get sent it from various people and pictures and I compile it into an email, which I then send out to our people in aged care that we're connected with at the moment. And I write them a little message, just checking in with everyone and seeing how they are. And I also give them a little bit of context as to what we've been doing and the story behind the photos that I've sent them. So that's really lovely to keep that regular digital newsletter going. And then at the end of the week, I go to work and we do lots of just constant art with the children, like just painting, chalk. I'm a big dancer. We dance and we document a lot of that process too. So we've got a lovely timeline going from March of just all of the art and things that the children and we have been creating in Canberra. It's like this beautiful ongoing document I think,

Jen Seyderhelm:

And it will be relevant forever. And it'll be something that they can always come back to. It can go all over the place in a thousand wonderful, different ways. I just have to mention two other sideline things that I've discovered that you do. And I love with everything that you create there is the health and wellbeing and the creative element. And then there's these tangible rewards. So I love that you do like the beer run. So you just to give you the gist of this because I hate running and to make me run somewhere, it would have to have a incentive of getting to the pub at the end. So you created that and people just were like, I'll be in that. If I've run these two kilometres and we go to the pub at the end, then darn it, I will run. And then if you are not amazing enough, no lights, no lycra!

Fiona Harris:

Oh my God. Look, one of the most important things for me is that I just love people. I'm well known with my poor husband, Ben for stopping strangers in the street and I'll just start talking to them and it can go on for half an hour, 45 minutes because for me, connecting with someone on my wavelength is one of life's greatest gifts. It energizes me, Jen . Like I can physically feel it when I talk to someone and I've made the connection that all of my crazy ideas that is the goal is to just connect with people and share some of their energy. Do you know what I mean?

Jen Seyderhelm:

I know what you mean, but I don't think they're crazy ideas. That's the one thing I have to say.

Fiona Harris:

thank you. Thank you.

Jen Seyderhelm:

I feel like they're the kind of thing that you put on the table and everyone goes, well, why didn't I think of doing that beforehand?

Fiona Harris:

That's really nice of you to say, but I've reached a point with my husband, Ben, and also with my mother. Who's just my biggest critic, but God, I love her where they just kind of go, Ugh , what is it this time? What have you come up with? But apparently I've always been like that. Jen, my mum said that ever since she can remember, I've just been a bit, a bit naughty, a bit cheeky, a bit trying to do something against the grain.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Yeah. But again, I just don't feel like it's against the grain. And I think that's obviously why you love working with children like working with the aged care, because as you said, the facade is gone and somewhere in the middle, we put up the facade and really we do want to do dancing under a disco ball because it feels good. We really do want to, I won't say run, I'm going to say I'll walk fast, but I would run if I was going to meet with you at the pub at the end and have a laugh and a wine at the end of it, that would make me do it.

Fiona Harris:

It was quite successful. People really enjoyed the reward at the end sometimes more than the run itself, I think. But I've met some great people through some of the things that I've done. And a lot of them are still my friends today. And as long as I can keep meeting those wonderful people and keep making those lifelong connections with people in my community and in the wider Canberra region. Like to me, that's what life's all about

Jen Seyderhelm:

When this COVID thing stops, changes, we'd go back to some sort of normal. What would you like to see?

Fiona Harris:

I want to keep going with these aged care connections because I think the aged care industry is there's a lot of wonderful people who work in it, but there's this, there's this barrier for a lot of people. They're worried or they're a bit scared about making that step and walking into a centre, just to connect with the residents or to say hello, or like some of these people don't get any visits, ever. That just boggles my mind. In the future. I want to be, I want to be singing to these people. I want to be dancing with these people. I want to be bringing the children in to visit these people. I'm currently doing it when it starts up again. I've already got that going as part of my workplace, but I just want to take it further. Like I want to start doing it across Canberra, start doing art and start bringing art and the children into these residents and just creating together, spending some time together.

Jen Seyderhelm:

The difficult thing is, and I don't ever want there to be a hurdle in your way, but you've got the young who are keen, the old who are keen. It's the facilitation of the process. Basically. That's the hard thing to get happening. And I'm so grateful that you've got a supportive workplace who's gone, yeah, let's do this. But again, because as you said, they're vulnerable the aged are vulnerable with COVID right now, the thought that you can't just go in and give someone a hug is the worst thing about this COVID experience for me as well. So the hard thing is the red tape, the bureaucracy and all of that.

Fiona Harris:

Absolutely. And something that I've learnt with my aged care work in Canberra. And this was a very important lesson that Fiona, my mentor actually taught me from the very beginning was that you just got to find the right fit. You've got to find the places that share your ideas about what's possibly important. And they've got to be open to being a bit different and being a bit progressive. There's a lovely aged care facility that my Nan actually went to before she passed away. And it was Goodwin in Monash and they have dance parties. Yeah . Like they're doing it now. They've dance parties with their residents. I was reading in the Canberra Times very recently that I think the Canberra Symphony Orchestra is going there and doing a study, but also playing for the residents to see what effect live music has on the residents. And I'm sure that it's deeper than how I'm portraying it. And that's at Goodwin too. So there's places like that that exist that have been very open and accepting of me and my ideas. And it's just really finding those places around Canberra that want to get on board and just seeing what we can create together. Not just me, but with younger people as well.

Jen Seyderhelm:

You strike me as someone and I'm sure I'm right. Who is a "well, if I don't ask and if I don't try, well, I won't get anywhere". And that is a wonderful, wonderful thing in you. If there's been a lesson you've learned, what would you suggest to people who are listening to you going, gosh, I want to try and do that sort of stuff. But I can't.

Fiona Harris:

I have learned a lot of lessons. Some of them have been quite hard to learn, but have been necessary for me to learn. I just think you've got to try Jen , you got to try in anything. What's the worst thing that can happen is someone says no to you or someone doesn't email back or you do an event? And nobody comes, which has happened to me by the way. Once the worst has happened to you in that sphere, nothing can touch you. You become what's that word, impervious to the negativity and you just got to try. But also the other thing I've learnt is that, you know, it's a good idea. I've always found that it's a good idea that I've got, if all the doors before me seem to open, like for Art For Aged Care, there hasn't been any doors come down on me. If anything, people have been contacting me. Whereas with some of my other ideas, it feels like this upward slog , this upward battle to get people on board. I think that's a really relevant lesson. If you hit too many brick walls with an idea, it doesn't mean it's a bad idea. It just means that maybe it's not the time for it, but otherwise just jump in Jen, come on.

Jen Seyderhelm:

I have just loved having you here today and I've felt you from the go-get. I'm so grateful we got the chance to talk today Fiona .

Fiona Harris:

Yeah, me too. It's been really good. I'll take you out for coffee sometime to one of my favorite cafes . Yes, it's on me.

Jen Seyderhelm:

It's a date.

Fiona Harris:

Great.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Fiona Harris.

Karen Champion:

I'm Karen Champion. I've worked in the disability sector for a number of years. In October, 2018, NRG was launched. It's a disco for people with a disability.

Jen Seyderhelm:

What did you want to be when you grew up Karen?

Karen Champion:

I wanted to make a difference. So always, always wanted to make a difference. Always felt that I could make some type of impact somewhere in someone's life, especially with the vulnerable.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Yeah. And you've clearly done that. So is working with people with a disability your first role that you've done or did you do other things prior to that?

Karen Champion:

I've always worked in the disability sector. Prior to that, I did work in aged care in South Australia. And when I moved to Canberra, I wanted to have a complete different lifestyle, so different career as well. So it's been challenging, but it's definitely rewarding.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Well, two things, when we first set up this interview, I initially had put to you for doing it on a Tuesday night and you were like, Jen I can't do Tuesday night. That's when the disco's on.

Karen Champion:

Correct.

Jen Seyderhelm:

And so this was also an evolution for you because you've had an involvement with someone else in the community who's running a similar sort of thing on the South side. Am I right?

Karen Champion:

Correct.

Jen Seyderhelm:

You were saying that people were prepared to travel from all the way over the North side, maybe 45 to 50 minutes just to get to the South side for the disco. And they were spending longer in the car than they'were actually on the dance floor. So that was part of the motivation of bringing it to the North side as well?

Karen Champion:

It definitely was. Tim Lyneham , who's our live DJ person. I had a chat to him about it and he just said, look, you're preaching to the preacher here, let's do this. Let's find a venue. So we took out some liability insurance because of course NRG is a volunteer event. We do charge participants $5, but it is the hire of the hall and the liability insurance. We volunteer our time each week to put on this event.

Jen Seyderhelm:

And the fee that you charge is nominal effectively. I've noticed that with the fee that you charge, that means that the carers can come along as well and be part of the joy and the fun. And it must be as rewarding for the carers to be able to come along and see this person whom they love having such a great outlet and experiencing that kind of joy.

Karen Champion:

We have found with individuals that music moves them in a way that you can't explain. For some, they have a normal routine, a regular routine. It is programmed each week. We go on the clock and they go on, we do this. And then we do that. So that is their timeline. With the disco, it's a completely different ball game . They come in, they socialise, they have fun. It's a nightclub atmosphere. So we have lights that is , it's safe for people with epilepsy. There's no strobe lights, the music's loud, it's rock and roll and it just moves people.

Jen Seyderhelm:

It moves everybody. And part of this entire podcast is just how the arts affects you. Even when we think we remove arts from our life, we've got the birds singing outside, even when you're listening to music and you don't even think about it, you'll sit down and think, my gosh, my foot's been tapping this whole time. It's involuntary and joyous and such a wonderful way of just being able to express themselves outside of that regular routine, which is also important. But it's really nice to have that outlet.

Karen Champion:

We found that with individuals, when they're traveling in the vehicle to their programs, they're listening to radio stations and they're listening to good music and they might rock back and forth in their car seat. Or they might just find themselves in a way that it just like, I love this song, you know, and it triggers something with them. So we sort of found that with NRG disco, that if we provided that type of music that they're familiar to , they're hearing on the radio every day, we can't go wrong.

Jen Seyderhelm:

No you can't. And also when I was putting together and looking into all of this experience, your little story, and I'm only calling it little because I'm sure when you actually first filmed the story that went out through the ABC about this disco, that little story has gone all over Australia. It's gone beyond Australia. Are you surprised at the reach of the story?

Karen Champion:

I am because you don't want, you see in the very beginning, we just wanted to make a difference for people with a disability. And we didn't realise the impact that that would have. We've also found with carers that they come and they have a great time with their individual and they could be sitting on a chair, but because the carers are come on, we need to get up and dance. That encouragement is there. And you find that the individual has a dance partner. And so you have more confidence to be on the dance floor, surrounded with other people dancing. And yeah, it's really difficult to explain, but they just come alive and it doesn't seem like a big deal type of thing. But it actually is because some of these people do not talk, they're nonverbal. And when you actually see their movement, you've sort of opened up something in them. And we've had carers that have said, Oh my God, I didn't know that she could do that. You see? And we've had some people that have come for the very first time and they've sat on a chair. They've sort of looked around and they're interested in the lights and stuff like that, but they really haven't gone on the dance floor. But the following week, when they come, they're a completely different person and they're excited and they're happy. And they're like, see you next week. Yeah. It's really endearing for me. It really is. Cause I can see that this small little thing is actually, it's only an hourly event weekly on every Tuesday night , 7 to 8:00 PM, but they look forward to it and some are getting ready at four or five in the afternoon, just so they can come to this disco.

Jen Seyderhelm:

I love it. And I also see you've got the chairs around the edge of it so people can just sit and watch. And I think for some people also, as you were just saying, the first time they come, that's safe and that's nice. They still get the beat of the music. They still get the feel of the experience. But for all of us who are a bit nervous about getting up and dancing or something like that, you've got that option too , to just be part of it, but to sit and be part of it.

Karen Champion:

Right . See , I think from our perspective, our routine is daily. We go to work, we come home with our families. We might want to go out with friends to a nightclub of a nighttime, maybe on a Friday night. Unfortunately, sometimes with individuals because of the high care support, they just can't do that. So we wanted to provide this in a time slot that was convenient for people with a disability to be able to experience what you and I take for granted. And we can just go out and do what we want to do. We just sort of bring it to a decent time slot. I mean, look, we don't have alcohol, but we have everything else, loud music. It's rock and roll. A lot of fun. There's a lot of people dancing. There's less people on the chairs, everyone's on the dance floor and the interaction and the socialisation and the laughter. And, or you might hear, Oh, I haven't heard this song for a long time. It's exciting. It really is. Yeah , it is.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Yeah. And the most extraordinary thing for me is I first discovered you post COVID. So the first I'd seen was this story about how finally the disco was back on after obviously you'd had to take a hiatus, adapting to the COVID experience as well. And that must have been really hard for people who were used again to the regular routine of being able to go to this disco, to have a break that I'm sure they were like, well, I don't understand why can't I go.

Karen Champion:

Covert is hard to explain, even to us. We haven't got our head around it, we can't do this. We can't do that. There's restrictions. And there's been a few restrictions that have been lifted. Then it's put back in place, especially in certain other States and everything and for a person with disability that is very difficult for them to comprehend. So we're having trouble, it's 10 times worse for them. Yeah . And when they love something so deeply like the disco and it's taken away from them because of COVID, you can't get your head around it . It's like, but I don't understand why we can't go. Like it's a whole I've met some friends there. This whole COVID thing, how does this impact me? We have to follow the law and we have to shut down and we keep everyone safe. Since we've been reopened, we have hand sanitiser, we have social distancing. We keep a record of attendance. Heaven forbid that we'd have a COVID incident, but we have to protect everyone. It's a safe environment. It's friendly.

Jen Seyderhelm:

I imagine that your biggest issue that you're going to have to deal with in the imminent future is that you're going to have to find venue number three?

Karen Champion:

Well we've always said that. We held off a bit with the reopening post COVID due to I didn't want to say no to someone. Yeah. I want to invite people and I want people to be there because they want to be there. But I didn't want to say, look, I'm sorry. We've hit our number. Yeah. So look, if we have to find another venue, a bigger venue, if we get too big, then so be it, but it's important that we facilitate these people with a disability. How many of them there are, that would like to attend this event that we try and allow them to be part of this. I won't turn anyone away.

Jen Seyderhelm:

No, no. And I can see now because of more people discovering this as being something that they could do that you're probably getting to that point now. And again, and now factoring in social distancing where you might need to think about venue number three, somewhere else. So where can people find out more information if they want to come along and find out more or have a go?

Karen Champion:

We have a website. The website is, well, actually it's probably easier just to contact myself through email. We have a Northside email address, which is [email protected] So I'm happy that that's actually under my name. So I'm happy to take inquiries regarding that. The venue itself currently is the corner of Kosciuszko Ave and Tiptree Crescent in Palmerston . It's the community, Northside Community Hall there just next to the Palmerston shops. So it's seven to 8:00 PM.

Jen Seyderhelm:

And if someone else wants to put their hand up to help out in one way or another to be part of the evening to assist you. What else can people do to benefit you and your time that you're donating at the moment?

Karen Champion:

At the moment, it's really myself and I have a couple of helpers every now and then, but pretty much I attend the disco prior to it commencing. And I'm up on a ladder, I'm putting up lights and setting the chairs and stuff like that. It's actually a good half an hour, 40 minutes to do that. So yeah. Look, we're always looking for people to help put up and pull down. It would be appreciated. We're not getting paid for this. It's all for the love of when you see an individual with that big smile on their face. And they come in and they're like, hi Karen, and they're so excited and they just can't wait for that first song, it's worth it. It's amazing. It really is. Any help. Any help would be really greatly appreciated. We're also looking, I have put it out there to a few people, but if anyone's got any kaleidoscope lights hanging around that they're not using a couple of them would be really greatly appreciated as well. I myself purchase all the lights. So it comes out of my pocket. And although I don't mind, but it does get to a point where, Oh my God, you know, any volunteers, I'm happy to work out a roster where you might come every fortnight or something and help out or something. I don't want people to be obligated, but I would really appreciate the help.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Yeah. Karen, I think you are a champion. You are what your last name describes. And I have really loved chatting with you today. And if you haven't seen it, you have a look online at the Northside recreation group disco. And if it doesn't put a big smile on your face too , honestly, the difference you're making is incredible. Thank you so much for your time, Karen.

Karen Champion:

Thank you so much, Jen. Thank you for your time.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Karen Champion. This podcast episode is dedicated to Sue Salthouse, ACT Senior Australian of the Year and disability advocate. Make sure you check out the rest of the RISE calendar online at risecanberra.com, where you can find out more about other innovative offerings from Canberra creators on the RISE news page and keep up to date with the Where You Are Festival, which is on until September. The RISE Canberra podcast is produced by Events ACT with support from Talking Canberra to WC .