Accessible film club development, Gulbenkian

A pilot working towards a regular accessible film screening within the main programme.
Jess Thomas, Marketing Officer, Gulbenkian

Project overview

Why the project matters

Through working with autism and learning disabilities arts charity, Square Pegs, we identified that we weren’t reaching a local audience of learning disabled and autistic young adults, who currently do not access, experience and appreciate film through a local cinema experience. However, we also identified that our current set up did not ‘work’ for this audience. We wanted to establish a new format that removed the barriers faced by people with learning disabilities and autism in accessing film screenings, due to their needing a bespoke and accessible cinema experience where they feel safe, valued and included.


  • Initiate the development of a new diverse audience for the Gulbenkian Cinema
  • Work with Square Pegs as a partner organisation. Square Pegs are a local community arts organisation who deliver arts projects with and for people with learning disabilities and autism.
  • Working closely with partner organisation Square Pegs, we will identify and establish a core group of learning disabled and autistic young adults who currently do not access, experience and appreciate film through a local cinema experience.
  • Develop a format for an accessible monthly film club aimed at people with learning disabilities and autism at Gulbenkian.
  • Research and develop marketing strategies to engage the peers of the core group, and reach out into the wider learning disabled/autistic community.
  • We will support the core group to choose a film which will be screened as part of a launch/pilot event for the accessible film club. The film will be chosen from a selection of British, international and specialised film.
  • We will develop an informal post-film discussion element to the film club, which will provide an opportunity for the audience to share their experiences and engage with each other socially.
  • The main content of this project is the research and development phase, however, we will organise a launch screening event which will be a platform for continuing this programme beyond this initial project.

Headline results

  • The event surpassed our target of 30 tickets with 35 tickets issued.
  • We had a 77% return rate on the feedback forms.
  • 50% stating they had never attended Gulbenkian before.
  • Nearly 50% said they had a disability.
  • 96% likely to attended another accessible screening.



Learning outcomes

What worked

The project surpassed the target set in the application and we delivered a successful pilot event.

The project successfully engaged a core group of young people with varying accessible needs through our partner organisation Square Pegs. We went through a period of significant research and development with the group who selected the film for the launch screening, delivered an access audit of the cinema in terms of sensory sensitivities and wider access issues and established a new format for an accessible film screening at Gulbenkian, which is accessible and appropriate for our target audience.

The format included lights being kept at a low level, lower sound levels, no trailers or adverts (with exception of the Film Hub ident as required as part of the funding), assistance to help find seats and allowance for increased levels of movement and noise. These were advertised in advance as part of the copy and on the flyer.

What didn’t work

The timescale for this project was incredibly tight which resulted in some compromises, where it would have been better to have had more time with the core group to make more informed choices in the run up to the event and to market the event to more target groups. For example, the group selected an archive film ‘Spirited Away,’ dubbed in English which was not available with captions or audio description. Going forward, we would have more time to select a film, which had both of these, and so would be more accessible.

The evaluation forms supplied were not geared appropriately for an accessibility audience. Square Pegs developed their own, informed by the main survey form and in liaison with Film Hub South East, which was easier for the attending audience. There was one question in particular which was highlighted as inappropriate, causing confusion for the audience and lacking in sensitivity.

Also, the process of filling the forms in overtook the film discussion element following the screening, as the Square Pegs team were called on to assist the attendees in completing the form, which interrupted this element significantly.

What you’d do differently if you did it again

Allow more time to reach more target groups with a longer lead in time to the screening. Due to other events in the building, the post film discussion took place at the far end of our café away from the cinema which caused a little bit of confusion. A clearer, designated space closer to the cinema or even preferably in the cinema itself, would have been better.

The talk would have also benefitted from a refreshment element as some people drifted to the café to get drinks and snacks.


Awareness & attitudes

Working with Square Pegs and the core group of young adults created ownership of the event, increased our engagement and has also strengthened our partnership relationship with Square Pegs. It also highlighted the barriers faced by people with learning disabilities and autism in accessing film screenings.

The event itself was well received with a feeling of positivity and eagerness for the next screening.


This project directly engaged with a new diverse audience who currently aren’t accessing and engaging with the cinema.

Knowledge & experience

The research and training for this event has greatly benefitted the Gulbenkian team in marketing approach, technical environments and accessibility initiatives. As a part of the project, new marketing materials were created with an emphasis on accessibility.