Safe & Sound?

Text reading: in collaboration with Aisling Gallagher and Calum Perrin, Sydenham Arts Presents Safe and Sound


Safe and Sound? is a participatory audio art project by and for disabled people living in Lewisham. This project is a collaboration between Aisling Gallagher, Calum Perrin and Sydenham Arts, supported by Arts Council England.

Aisling and Calum are autistic artists who have experienced lockdown in their own ways. You can read about and listen to some of their work on this website.

Over the summer months and into Autumn, Aisling and Calum collected stories and sounds from disabled people, retelling their experiences, ups and downs of lockdown and the impact of the pandemic on their lives, and the lives of disabled people throughout the UK.

These thoughts, words and soundbites have been compiled to create a living recollection of these unparalleled times, and record the experiences which we can all learn from.

The act of listening is often taken for granted, but as their personal soundscapes shifted during lockdown, we began to listen consciously to the quiet of the outdoors, the newly audible sounds of nature, and the sometimes claustrophobic sounds of the domestic space we were now confined to.

Listen for yourself to the Sounds of Lockdown. A written excerpt of the piece is also available here.

Underneath the video, Aisling Gallagher describes the context of the times this piece is being created in for disabled people,  and how the process has changed what they expected to produce.

Safe and Sound grew out of our experiences as autistic artists over the first period of lockdown. Even though many aspects of our situations were isolating, the sudden change in the soundscape was a relief. The constant, low rumble of London traffic had almost disappeared overnight; both wildlife and human life was suddenly more audible, the rattle of passing bikes replacing the roar of car engines. 

However, being confined to our homes for most of the day presented some other soundscape issues. The hum of the fridge, or the fluorescent light, or the hot water pipes? We couldn’t escape it. The radio in the kitchen, the sound of the bathroom door creaking open, the squeak of a floorboard as we crossed our rooms for the hundredth time that day? We were stuck with them, indefinitely.

As autistic people, this new sound world had greatly affected us, and we wanted to know how other disabled people felt. Although we’re originally from theatre backgrounds, Calum as a sound designer, Aisling as a director, we realised that sound art was the perfect lockdown artistic medium; we could make it at home, and easily collect sounds in a socially distanced way. As Aisling is a Lewisham resident, and very active in their local community, this seemed like a great place to start.

At the beginning of this project, we received a small commission as part of Conversations / Future Selves, where disabled artists were invited to make work about what kind of world we wanted to see after the pandemic. It gave us an opportunity to test some creative ideas, play around, and lean into hope – hope that things really could get better, that the world we’d return to would not be the one we left behind. 

Basic adjustments disabled people had been requesting for years were now granted without a second thought. It opened the minds of a lot of people who’d never thought about disabled people before – they suddenly realised that a lot of us had been living like this for years, hidden in plain sight. They saw how easy it was. That all it took was the desire to imagine things differently.

But as summer wore on, things began to change. Most of us naively thought this would be a short-term change, that things would be back to some kind of normal by the end of the year. With every passing day, it’s clear that will not be the case. 

This is the new normal – somewhere between two-worlds, with ever-changing rules and a government who don’t seem to care that ordinary people are suffering. We have felt this ourselves – worries about Universal Credit, mental health referrals delayed indefinitely. Two-thirds of people who have died from coronavirus are disabled. The longer term impact on public mental health is already huge. People can’t isolate because they can’t afford to take the time off. We are living in a kind of purgatory where our fate lies in the hands of people we don’t trust to have our best interests at heart. 

The final composition isn’t what we thought we would create a few months ago. We don’t have as much hope. Pretending that we feel optimistic about the state of the world for disabled people at this point would be dishonest. Art by and for disabled people does not exist to make non-disabled people feel comfortable. What we’ve created is a reflection of how we feel at this moment in time. We hope you don’t feel comfortable when you remember that this is how many of us feel across the UK.