Jen Blackwell holding a box with her BEM medal in it.
Jen Blackwell holding a box with her BEM medal in it.
Photograph by Josh Brandwood

DanceSyndrome Founder Jen Blackwell went to Lancaster Castle on Friday 20th October to receive a British Empire Medal (BEM) which she was awarded for services to Disabled People in the first King’s birthday honours in June.

Jen Blackwell is 42 and lives in Chorley. Her greatest passion in life is dance. Jen also has Down’s syndrome but has never let her disability stop her from living life to the full. After she left school, Jen and her mum, Sue, spent 10 years searching for the right dance training opportunities that would allow her to follow her dream to be a Dance Leader and performer. After all those years of searching, they couldn’t find anything that was accessible for Jen because of her learning disability, so in 2009 they took matters into their own hands and set up their own charity, DanceSyndrome.

DanceSyndrome’s ethos is that disability should never be a barrier to following your dreams. All our activities are co-produced, with people with learning disabilities taking visible leadership roles to inspire people to see what can be achieved when we all become more inclusive. The charity offers weekly inclusive dance workshops, their own accredited leadership training, and high quality and exceptional performances at a variety of events including the prestigious Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Jen receiving her BEM
Photograph by Josh Brandwood

After 14 years of striving to inspire people in all areas of life to become more inclusive, Jen was recognised in the 2023 King’s birthday honours. As announced on the 17th June, Jen was awarded The British Empire Medal (BEM). The BEM recognises an achievement or contribution of a very “hands-on” service to the community in a local geographical area. This often takes the form of sustained commitment in support of very local charitable and/or voluntary activity; or innovative work that has delivered real impact.

Presentations of BEMs are made locally by The Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire and Jen was invited to the prestigious ceremony at Lancaster Castle, where the newly installed Lord-Lieutenant of Lancashire, Mrs Amanda Parker, presented medals to Jen and other recipients, on behalf of His Majesty the King. Amanda was appointed to the role of Lord-Lieutenant of Lancashire by King Charles III following the retirement of Lord Shuttleworth after 26 years in the role. She officially took over the role on August 2, becoming the first female Lord-Lieutenant of Lancashire in almost 500 years.

Jen Blackwell and Peter Pamphlett receiving the Queens Award for Voluntary Services from the Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire This is not the first time that Jen and the DanceSyndrome team have been recognised for their work. The charity has been the recipient of many local and national awards over the last 10 years, most notably receiving the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, the MBE equivalent for volunteer groups in 2019. This prestigious honour recognises the exceptional contributions made to local communities by groups voluntarily devoting their time for the benefit of others. Jen was thrilled to be invited to Buckingham Palace to celebrate achieving this award.

Jen said “I’m amazed to receive this honour for what I love doing. I’m proud of who I am and the achievements of DanceSyndrome. It’s an honour to inspire others to dance and live a life of their choosing. I believe that everybody can dance and do things they love no matter how other people define us.”

DanceSyndrome Managing Director Julie Nicholson said “Everyone at DanceSyndrome is so proud of Jen and we are thrilled to see her recognised with a BEM in the King’s birthday honours. This is so well deserved after many years of hard work on the part of Jen, her family, and the team of dancers. Jen has always wanted to change the world through her dance and when she is given accolades like this it demonstrates the huge difference that one person can make if they are determined and dedicated. It’s great to see success on this level and really shows what can be achieved when people with learning disabilities are properly included and supported to follow their dreams.”

If you would like to support DanceSyndrome’s life-changing work, you can donate directly using the form below and help us to empower even more people with learning disabilities in the future.

Copyright © 2019 DanceSyndrome - Web Design by Illustrate.

Follow us: