Sarah Calderbank joined DanceSyndrome in 2014 as a volunteer, helping with producing marketing literature. In 2015 Tudor Trust provided funding for a Business Development and Administration Executive and Sarah was thrilled to take the role. She is now the Project Coordinator for DanceSyndrome’s two major projects, funded by Spirit of 2012 and Big Lottery Fund. Here she talks about how proud she is to be involved with DanceSyndrome and the charity’s many recent achievements.
“When I first joined DanceSyndrome, the story of how Jen and Sue Blackwell started the charity was truly inspiring to me. These two ladies showed drive and determination in the face of rejection and inequality. What they wanted was simple, the opportunity for Jen to follow her dream to work in dance. There was no reason why Jen could not do that, her only barrier was other people’s perceptions of her disability. So they created a safe environment where barriers were removed and anyone and everyone could have fun together and enjoy dancing. I was proud to be involved back then, but I’m even more proud to have played a part over the last few years as the charity has evolved so much!
Back in 2015, we had 2 regular workshops and an annual Dance By Example training course. Three years later and we now have 5 well-established workshops and this year 3 different groups have completed Dance By Example. We have set up a new street dance crew, due to popular demand, and have formed a “Select Team”, which is a feedback opportunity for people with disabilities to influence the future direction of the charity. We are also about to run our first Inclusive Approaches Training for Dance Artists from other organisations, so that they can adapt their own sessions to be more inclusive and accessible to all.
This year alone we have won Charity of the Year at the E3 Business Awards and DanceSyndrome volunteer Anna James won Student Volunteer of the Year at the UCLan CVCL Awards. We were also nominated for two different Charity Film Awards, our Managing Director Dawn Vickers was shortlisted as a Finalist at the Barclays Celebrating North West Women in Business Awards and we have recently been nominated for a Queens Award for Voluntary Services. We are finalists at the N&W Lancashire Chamber of Commerce BIBA awards Third Sector Business of the Year category later this week and Dawn Vickers is a finalist in Business Woman of the Year category at The Enterprise Vision Awards later in September. We also performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and appeared on prime time ITV! Not bad for a small charity from Lancashire!
I like to be busy and it is a privilege to be involved in so much diverse work, but the thing that I really love about DanceSyndrome is the way that it so completely inclusive. Every single person is celebrated for their achievements and any difficulties are overcome so that everyone can be included, enabled and empowered as much as possible. Our Dance Leaders continue to go from strength to strength because they are supported by people who focus on their talents and abilities, whilst understanding their other needs and helping them to overcome any barriers they may face.
This all sounds really simple, but actually this inclusion and empowerment is really significant because it is missing from so many aspects of society and that is something that isn’t really understood by many people who don’t have a disability, or support someone with a disability. It is incredibly moving to see our dancers perform and then hear the wonderful feedback from audience members about how their opinions about disability have been changed.
This year’s performances of Lit aDrift are the perfect example of this. 80% of people who saw one of the performances said that they had a more positive or much more positive view of disabled people following the show and 100% said they would want to see more performances by performers with disabilities as a result. Feedback comments included this summary of the buzz after the show:
“Such an amazing experience, I feel privileged to have been part of the audience, comments I’m hearing all around me are: It’s great, it’s good, excellent, moving, divine, never expected that, wow, so brilliant, fantastic, marvellous, superb, well done, imaginative. So, thank you”.
There were many wonderful comments, which can all be read on our website, and several audience members went as far as to say it was their favourite show from the Fringe. The most overwhelming thing about the comments, though, was that very few of them even mentioned disability, which shows that the audiences saw past any disabilities our dancers and choreographers may, or may not, happen to have and focused on their ability and talent instead! What an amazing achievement!
I can’t put into words how proud I am to be a part of an organisation that has the power to make that kind of positive change to perceptions. We are truly playing a part in making a brighter, more inclusive society where everyone can thrive and I can’t wait to see what the future looks like!”
EDIT: November 2018 – since I first wrote this blog in September, there have been several more impressive achievements for some of our team members. Jen Blackwell was recognised with a Prime Minister’s Point of Light Award on 25th October and she was also included in the Shaw Trust Power 100 list of influential people with a disability in the UK. Becky Rich was recognised with the Lesley Finley Community Award in recognition of the contribution that she has made to the lives of people with disabilities across Lancashire.
If you want to play a part in DanceSyndrome’s future, there are lots of ways you can get involved. You can become a member, become a volunteer or make a donation to help our work to continue. You can keep up to date with all future developments at DanceSyndrome by signing up to receive our quarterly newsletter.