Donna Wheeldon holding up her framed certificate from the Chief Nurse fro Adult Social Care.

Donna Wheeldon, DanceSyndrome Dance Artist, was taken by surprise on Friday when she was awarded with a prestigious national award.

Donna, aged 49 from Tarleton, thought she was attending a family event on Friday 27th October, but the celebrations were interrupted to make the surprise announcement that she was the recipient of a Silver Chief Nurse Award. Deborah Sturdy, Chief Nurse for Adult Social Care in England at the Department for Health and Social Care, connected with the group via video link from London to congratulate Donna.

The Chief Nurse Awards were developed by the Department for Health and Social Care to acknowledge and reward the significant and outstanding contribution made by social care workers and nurses in England. They celebrate nurses and care workers who go above and beyond their everyday roles to provide excellent care, leadership, and inspiration to their colleagues and patients and those who use services.

DanceSyndrome was founded by Jen Blackwell, who has Down’s syndrome, because she found it difficult to find opportunities in community dance that were accessible to people with learning disabilities. DanceSyndrome’s ethos is that disability should never be a barrier to following your dreams. All DanceSyndrome sessions are co-produced, with people with learning disabilities taking visible Dance Leader roles to inspire people to see what can be achieved when we all become more inclusive.

Donna Wheeldon is the Dance Artist who co-delivers alongside Jen at DanceSyndrome. In addition to this role, she has also been employed in the role of Lead Carer for Jen and this is what led to her being nominated for the Chief Nurses Award.

Donna said “Jen came to me in 2011 for private Ballet lessons. Every lesson I took with Jen turned out to be a lesson for myself. Jen just blew my mind with her stunning grace and passion for dance. DanceSyndrome asked me to take a couple of workshops with Jen and the first session was magical. Never before had I seen such joy, love, and passion from a group. Every session from then on continued the same: fun and loving. This was so new to me, but every day I learnt from Jen.

“As both Jen’s lead carer and her dance instructor I recognise the irony that every lesson I take with her turns out to be a lesson for myself. Not only through dance but also from my greater appreciation of disability inclusion issues. Being part of Jen’s life and DanceSyndrome has shown me how to achieve the very best, not just through technique but from the passion within.

“As a carer I know that every day can be different. Everyone has their ups and downs but it is a pure pleasure to work with Jen. I am so grateful to have been given this opportunity to champion the rights of those with learning disabilities and show the way forward.”

DanceSyndrome Managing Director Julie Nicholson said “Through her role at DanceSyndrome and as a carer in Jen’s personal life, Donna has done so much to enhance the lives of people with learning disabilities and is a very worthy recipient of this award. She takes a genuine person-centred approach to her roles, understanding each individual and the barriers they may face, before doing all she can to support them to overcome those barriers. Everyone at DanceSyndrome has a huge amount of respect for Donna and her dedication to being a supportive and compassionate dancer, carer and friend, not just to Jen but to everyone in our team.”

Sue Blackwell, Jen’s mum and DanceSyndrome co-founder said “Donna goes above and beyond demonstrating the power of focused, person-centred care. Donna and Jen are a dynamic duo living and embracing life through a shared love of dance.

“Inclusive dance and DanceSyndrome give Jen ‘a voice to be heard’ but without Donna’s unflinching, seemingly effortless caring underpinning her life, Jen would be lost. Jen says that together they demonstrate ‘anything is possible if you have the right support’. With Donna’s expert support, Jen is a contributor to society as evidenced by her numerous awards including her British Empire Medal.”

You can find out more about the work that Donna and Jen co-deliver for DanceSyndrome in the video below:



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.

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