Not too many people realise that Hartlepool has its very own soap opera, but to those in the know, Hope Springs is just one of the many success stories to come out of the award-winning production company Shoot Your Mouth Off.

Founded in 2001 by local woman Karen Sheader, Shoot Your Mouth Off - or SYMO for short - is a ground-breaking community interest company which works with people with learning disabilities to make films and record music.  Many of its productions are internet hits, with the group's films having been enjoyed more than 50,000 times by visitors to the video-sharing website YouTube.

"SYMO promotes confidence and self-esteem," says Karen, who is one of the company's three directors.  "We challenge negative perceptions of people with disabilities, and have a good time doing it.  We get families and carers involved... and have fantastic staff, of course!"

The group meets twice each week in a former industrial unit on the town's Cromwell Street. "This is one of the town's best-kept secrets: a TARDIS!" jokes Karen, welcoming visitors to the spacious workshop which is also home to local drama group Roaring Mouse.  We're visiting a SYMO Open Day, and the workshop is decorated with awards and press clippings telling of the group's successes.

But it's not all about acting.  SYMO's members have the opportunity to learn more about makeup and costume, desktop publishing, art and digital media.  "Our members don't come here just to kill time," Karen stresses. "SYMO is about activity with a point: we achieve great things here, and we're proud of that."

The group has done much to challenge negative perceptions of people with disabilities and have produced films on behalf of Hartlepool and South Tyneside councils, Cleveland Police, the University of Teesside and Cleveland Fire Brigade.  The Stay Safe Rap, a joint production by Roaring Mouse and SYMO features on Hartlepool Now.

SYMO has scooped several awards for its productions, travelling to film festivals and award ceremonies as far afield as Brighton and Canada.  Fledgling band the Hip-Hoppers - whose members meet and record their songs at SYMO - launched their first album recently, premiering live on local station Radio Hartlepool.

Joining or learning more

New members are always welcome at SYMO, with sessions running on Mondays and Fridays from 9am until 3.30pm.  Each full day costs £50 per person or £55 including transport (correct as of February 2011).

You can watch SYMO's videos on their YouTube channel.  If you are interested in joining SYMO, or would like to pay a visit or attend an open day, contact Karen by: