On 1st September 2021, DanceSyndrome is excited to welcome Julie Nicholson as our new Managing Director.
Julie is not new to DanceSyndrome. She has been a proud Trustee for many years, actively volunteering her time to influence the direction of the charity, whilst also working as Head of Partnerships & Programmes at UnLtd, the leading provider of support to social entrepreneurs in and around the UK.
Julie said ” A decade ago, in my early days working at UnLtd, one of the first social entrepreneurs I met, and with whom I immediately connected, was Jen Blackwell. I was blown away by her charisma, her passion and drive and can-do attitude for world domination. Jen dreamt of being a dance leader, but after completing mainstream school, she found herself in the frustrating position of not being able to fulfil her ambitions. At the time there was no suitable dance training for a person with a learning disability. Something needed to change. Jen and her parents, Sue and Malcolm Blackwell took matters into their own hands and Jen become the Founder and Creative Director of DanceSyndrome in 2009.
“I have followed and supported the DanceSyndrome journey over the last ten years. Sue and I have chatted every six months or so with me being a sounding board and offering informal advice and ideas. I have proudly watched the team grow, roll out a variety of community inclusive weekly dance sessions, develop a unique ‘Dance by Example’ Leadership Training Course aligned to Sports Leaders UK framework and perform all over the UK including at the Edinburgh Festival.
“The pandemic has been a time for reflection and re-evaluation. After ten years at UnLtd, I began to think about my next move while the current Managing Director of DanceSyndrome was having similar thoughts. In a fortunate stroke of serendipity, Sue approached me about taking on the Managing Director role and after several conversations, meetings, and a formal process, I accepted the role and will join DanceSyndrome to work with Jen and team on their next chapter on 1st September 2021.
“As I think about the move to my new role, I have reflected on how many more Jens there might be out there, many without the same incredible support net that Sue and Malcolm have provided. People with learning disabilities are limited only by the barriers which society puts in their way. It is up to non-disabled leaders to take action to break down the barriers in our society. I look forward to helping many more people like Jen to fulfil their potential.”
DanceSyndrome Chairperson Sue Blackwell said ” DanceSyndrome is delighted to welcome Julie Nicholson who brings passion and drive along with pragmatism to the role of Managing Director. DanceSyndrome is at a crossroads needing to become increasingly socially entrepreneurial. Julie’s background and skill set will be perfect to achieve this change, enabling many more people historically written off by society to blossom and become their own person. She totally subscribes to ‘leadership from unexpected places’, making her perfectly placed to steer DanceSyndrome into its exciting future.”
Julie will be taking over as Managing Director from Dawn Vickers, who is moving to a new role in the DanceSyndrome team as a part time Project Manager, working to secure funding to support the future plans of the charity.
Dawn joined DanceSyndrome in 2014 and has played a fundamental role in growing the charity, which had only been registered as a charity in the previous year after being formed by Jen Blackwell in 2009. During that time, DanceSyndrome has celebrated some huge successes.
Dawn said “During the first 12 months I spent time learning about the work of the charity and getting to know Sue and Jen Blackwell, the mum and daughter team who had founded and built DS since 2009. Their combined passion and energy was infectious, now they needed a cunning plan to take their work further and enable more people to benefit from their original mission and vision – to enable adults with learning disabilities to be leaders, to influence and educate society and to demonstrate inclusion through powerful, professional inclusive dance. That mission has never changed.
“Next we needed the right team to make it happen. Dance By Example was born and made available to adults with learning disabilities who wanted to learn how to lead, teach and design inclusive dance activity. A team of Dance Leaders grew and before long weekly dance sessions sprang up in community venues across Lancashire and Greater Manchester, co-delivered by Dance Leaders and a growing team of freelance Dance Artists. Everyone was welcomed to join in, hence we named our project work “Everybody Dance”. And everybody did, from all backgrounds, with all levels of ability but with the commonality that they loved to dance.
“Now we were starting to get busy! I applied everywhere for funding, had many rejections and learnt some tough lessons. But then we were incredibly fortunate to receive 3 years of funding from Spirit of 2012. What a springboard that turned out to be! We were able to develop our work locally and engage more people by delivering outreach dance sessions in schools, hospitals, community centres, day centres, care homes, Colleges, Universities – the list went on. We gained funding from Arts Council England to further develop our contemporary dance performance work, which we performed locally and then at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017 to great acclaim. In 2017 we gained funding from Big Lottery Reaching Communities, to enable us to work with partners in other areas of the UK, testing a social replication model over a three-year period. This was an exciting development and we were starting to get lots of interest in our work and requests to work with organisations across the UK. We needed to find a way to do this without losing focus on the people we were working with locally and now we had a funded project in place to enable this to happen.
“Our Dance Leaders were growing in confidence and as such their individual skills, talents and assets were beginning to surface. They were invited to speak at conferences across the UK and their work was recognised through many awards and accolades”
- Queen’s Award for Voluntary Services 2019 – the charity was awarded the voluntary group equivalent of an MBE
- Disability Power 100 – Jen Blackwell included in the top 100 for three consecutive years in 2018, 2019 & 2020
- National Learning Disability and Autism Awards 2019 – The charity was winner of the People’s Award
- Learning Disability and Autism Leaders’ List 2018 – Becky Rich included in top 15 in leaders in Sports, Arts and Entertainment
- Points of Light Award – 25 October 2018 – Jen Blackwell was chosen as the Prime Ministers Point of Light recipient
- E3 Business Awards 2018 – Charity of the Year
- Red Rose Awards 2017 – Not-For-Profit Award Winner
- National Learning Disability and Autism Awards 2016 – Dance Leader Team was the winner of the Sporting Chance Award
- Enterprise Vision Awards 2015 – Jen Blackwell wins Inspirational Woman of the Year
Helping the charity to survive the challenges of the pandemic with a completely new business model, and generating the funding to support that, has been Dawn’s final success as Managing Director and she hands over the reins to Julie at a time of optimism and opportunity for the charity.