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The AD:Vantage

Leadership Programme

The AD:Vantage Leadership programme is a development opportunity for d/Deaf, disabled or neurodivergent people who work in arts, culture or heritage. 

The programme content is designed to be delivered entirely online to meet the greatest possible range of access needs.

This is a pilot programme for 5 people.  It includes group learning sessions, 1-2-1 support and mentoring from a chosen industry specialist.  It also includes an approach to learning that encourages peer support, as well as talks and workshops which will be tailored to your needs as we get to know you.

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 Orientation Event

Duration: up to 3 hours

Required for all participants


1 x Orientation event where you will get to know your group members and start to get clear on what you want to achieve from participating.  The session is designed to get you off to the best possible start.

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Leadership Course

Delivered by Helga Henry & Lara Ratnaraja


This is the main teaching element of the programme and combines ideas, approaches and practical tips, reflection consideration and discussion.  We will vary the style and approach and ensure that we have regular screen breaks and monitor the energy of us all. 

A typical AD:Vantage group session includes an introduction to the topic with group exercises and then applying lessons to your own situation with practical "real" action plans.  We will look at key leadership themes, vision, communication, finance, strategy, planning and wider context setting.


Mentoring & Guidance

Led by Lara Ratnaraja and an industry mentor


3 x 1-hour sessions with Lara. This is a chance to talk one-to-one about the success you want to achieve through the programme and how to apply it afterwards.  Lara will also work with you on what you might need from a specialist mentor and who that mentor might be.  Scheduling will be timetabled in advance – with slots available and booked in during induction.  They will take place at the beginning, middle and end of the programme.


4 x hours mentoring from an industry mentor


Industry mentors will be art form and cultural entrepreneurs who are leaders in their fields.  Mentors on previous programmes have included cultural leaders from Art Monthly,  The National Theatre, Southbank, LIFT Festival, BIrmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Encounters Film Festival, The Guardian, University College London,  IKON Gallery, Artichoke, LADA, RADAR and Spike Island. In previous programmes, mentors have continued to meet informally with mentees, introduced them to other potential mentors and employed them on projects.


We cannot guarantee all of these outcomes, but experience tells us that as a result of the support you will get by being on AD:Vantage you will:

Benefits of taking part


Work on specific development needs that we have jointly identified and that you want to focus on in order to advance your career.


Gain inspiration from national and internationally renowned speakers, proven content and from everyone else in the group to build confidence.


Find a new way of developing business relationships and how to build a personal network regionally, nationally and internationally.  You will learn how to do this in a way that suits you and your personality and which fits your available time and budget.  Your network will support you to gain work and get results.


Work with a mentor who can inspire your work and provide practical advice and support.


Focus on your next career move and be given opportunities to make the most of the major initiatives happening in the region in 2021 and 2022.


Create a personalised action plan to make your career work for you in a way that you feel comfortable to carry out your plan.

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What you need to know

Elements of the programme

The programme has a range of types of learning experiences and a range of types of activity as we know that one single approach to learning does not suit everyone.  We will work hard in the delivery of the programme to make sure that the pace of learning is right for people who are taking part.  All sessions will be delivered to reflect the energy of the group – taking regular breaks from the screen for comfort and other needs.

In the programme you will get:

  • Some support to use the technology if you need it

  • A short orientation session

  • 10 half-day sessions of group learning (by Zoom) led by Helga Henry

  • “How I Did It” sessions – evening talks on Zoom with industry leaders

  • 3 x 1-2-1 career support sessions from Lara Ratnaraja

  • 4 hours mentoring from an industry specialist

  • A chance to attend the public programme of Masterclasses (held online)

For more details of these elements please see the FAQs

Reasonable Adjustments

We will also consider other access needs with each participant and work with you individually to find solutions (including using Access to Work) so that you can take part easily and comfortably.

Dates and Time

The programme will run from late August – December 2020 with a number of sessions, in the daytime and evening.  The dates and times are set out below.  We estimate that there will be a half /one day a week of direct contact time.  You may also want to set aside further time for reflection, thinking and recording your thoughts to get the most from the programme, but this is not essential.


Application deadline is midday 12:00 Monday 17th August.

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Dates and Times

Please ensure that you are available to attend all the group sessions (marked *) before you apply.


Wednesday 26th August      4pm – 6pm

Group sessions on Zoom*

First session Tuesday 15th September 10.30am to 1.30pm

Thursdays 10.00am to 1.30pm (with regular breaks):

  • 24th September

  • 1st October

  • 8th October

  • 15th October




  • 5th November

  • 12th November

  • 19th November

  • 26th November

  • 3rd December

1-2-1 sessions (1 hour)

Flexible timings – booked individually


Sessions held online or on the telephone


3 x 1-2-1 sessions of an hour each at the start, middle  and end of the programme (September to December)

Specialist Mentoring 1-2-1 

Flexible timings arranged with your mentor

October 2020 onwards – finish by December 2020

How I Did It Speaker Sessions

Sessions throughout programme from September 2020 – December 2020 (about once a month)


Flexible timings which we will fix with the group but likely to be early evening (4pm – 6pm) if that works for the group

Public Masterclasses

6pm – 8pm


(Exact dates depending on speaker availability)

Masterclass 1  – mid-September 


Masterclass 2 –  mid-October


Masterclass 3  – mid-November


Masterclass 4 –  mid-December   


Your most frequently asked questions about our programme

How will the programme be delivered?

The programme will be delivered online, mostly on Zoom and other platforms. We can arrange for technical support to train you to use this technology if needed. The sessions will include time to think and reflect alone, group discussions where we will use Zoom’s functionality to make sure people can join in comfortably, some video and audio material (captioned/ transcribed as appropriate) and guest speakers, interviews, individual conversation and consultation.

I have an idea of who I would like to mentor me – can you arrange this?

We will discuss your potential mentor in your first 1-2-1. Lara can consider with you who bill best fit your needs. You don’t have to have a specific person in mind right now. If you do have a mentor that you would like to work with, we often have success in attracting mentors that participants have chosen.

Here’s what someone on RE:Present said about their experience:“The mentorship programme has been the best thing for me. I’ve sent emails, images and links to shows over the years without reply and just one email and I get a meet-up. That’s sometimes all you need – that connection and that relationship. He told me about a residency at the Open Eye Gallery that I didn’t know about. I applied and got it.”

Who are Lara Ratnaraja and Helga Henry?

Lara Ratnaraja is a freelance consultant working within the cultural and digital sector. She develops and delivers projects and policy on how cultural and digital technology intersect for a number of university and cultural partners as well as programmes around cultural leadership, diversity and resilience for the arts. She developed and curates the Hello Culture conference. Past editions have run in Birmingham, Bristol and Manchester as part of the BBC Academy’s Digital Cities. Lara is on the Advisory board of Coventry Biennial and SHOUT Festival , and is on the board of Derby Theatre and Vivid Projects. She is on the Midlands Area Council of Arts Council England and the Equalities Monitoring Group of Arts Council Wales. She is an active volunteer around food poverty, in particular the B30 Foodbank. She also loves cats, brightly coloured hair and Rupaul’s Drag Race.

Helga Henry is also a consultant who collaborates with Lara on a range of leadership programmes and works with clients who want to improve the diversity of their workforce or their audience. Helga particularly runs groups and group development, works with organisations to figure out their vision, values and what makes them distinctive so that the organisation can grow. She hosts the Hello Culture conference and other conferences (when we used to have conferences). With her friend Andy Bass she is author of “NetworkAbility: Building your Business One Relationship At A Time ⧉.” Helga is on the board of the Creative Advantage Fund, the UK’s first specialist venture capital fund for the creative industries, Beatfreeks Arts and the Thames Festival Trust. Helga enjoys learning (aka being rubbish at) tennis, knitting and crochet and old US sitcoms, especially 30 Rock.

What experience do you have of leading programmes like this?

Helga and Lara have run two main leadership programmes in Birmingham – RE:Present in 2016 and ASTONish in 2017. You can read more about the achievements of RE:Present here ⧉ and some information about ASTONish (and a number of evaluation reports on both programmes at the programme website ⧉. We have contributed to a number of policy initiatives around expanding the diversity of the workforce, most recently for the then screen industry body West Midlands Screen Bureau which became Create Central ⧉ who have published our report.

Finally some thoughts around diversity in the cultural sector, particularly regarding race, can be found in this article ⧉.

Who else is involved?

Our Advisory Group brings a range of expertise and lived experience relating to disability and supporting disabled artists/ arts professionals. The group is:

Sonia Boué; Artist. Writer. Consultant

Becki Morris; Disability Collaborative Network

Craig Ashley; New Art West Midlands and Chair, DASH Arts

Philippa Cross; General Manager, Talking Birds Theatre Company

Mojere Ajayi-Egunjobi; Writer, Filmmaker and Producer

Kim Hackleman, Producer from the Click Spring Team at Belgrade Theatre, Coventry.

Why is the programme only available to D/deaf, disabled or neurodivergent people?

Coventry City Council has a strategic aim of improving the participation of disabled people in sport, art and culture: as artists, participants and leaders. This programme contributes to that strategic aim.

We want to explore inclusion and how, by investing in people with different vantage points and perspectives we can drive fresh/ new thinking and innovation in the cultural and heritage sector.

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Public Programme

The programme includes a number of public online events which will be Masterclasses with leading industry figures. 

Learn more