Our Ambassadors

Giovanni Pernice

Giovanni burst onto British TV screens in the Autumn of 2015 as a new professional dancer on BBC1’s Strictly Come Dancing. He was partnered with former Coronation Street star Georgia May Foote, and they finished the series as joint runners-up in the Final. They continued their partnership in the 2016 Strictly Come Dancing Live Tour. Giovanni then dazzled screens in 2016, 2017 and 2018 with amazing runs on Strictly Come Dancing, making it again to the final with the one and only Debbie McGee in 2017 and Faye Tozer in 2018. 2019 was very busy with the Strictly Come Dancing Live Tour, his Dance Is Life Solo Tour, Strictly Professionals Tour and Here Come the Boys Tour.

In 2020, Giovanni toured with his new production This Is Me and was partnered on Strictly Come Dancing with GMB presenter Ranvir Singh. In 2021, Giovanni played the Dance Master in his feature film debut, Man and Witch. Other notable work in 2021 included being a judge on I Like The Way You Move, guest appearance on Ru Paul’s Drag Race, as well as touring the UK with Anton du Beke in Him & Me. Ending 2021, Giovanni partnered and won Strictly with Eastender’s actress Rose Ayling-Ellis. This victory captured the hearts of the nation and raised awareness for the deaf community. Their Couple’s Dance to Symphony consequently won them a 2022 BAFTA TV Award for Must-See Moment. 2022 was an incredible year for Giovanni upon becoming Strictly Champion, performing on Strictly Come Dancing Live Arena Tour, This is Me and Him & Me tours, as well as numerous TV appearances. Giovanni finished the year by partnering TV & Radio presenter Richie Anderson in his first ever all male pairing.

Giovanni currently holds 2 Guinness World Records – the most jive kick and flicks in 30 seconds and the most Charleston swivel steps in 30 seconds. This was recorded on the Strictly Pro Challenge seen on BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing: It Takes Two.

Giovanni was born on the Italian island of Sicily, and at age 14 he moved to Bologna to train full time in dance. He first started competing as an adult in 2008, winning competitions all over Europe. Specialising in Latin, his greatest achievement was winning the Italian Championships in 2012.

Giovanni is delighted to be an Ambassador for DanceSyndrome.

Sara Britcliffe

 

Sara Britcliffe is the current Member of Parliament for Hyndburn and Haslingden, first elected in 2019. At 24, she is the 4th youngest MP currently in House of Commons and the youngest female Conservative MP ever elected.

Born and raised in Oswaldtwistle, Sara has always fought to improve our hometown whether as a local councillor, MP or as Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party for Youth.

Much like Dance Syndrome, she works to provide for everyone working to support many local clubs and projects.

Sara has a personal love of musical theatre, treading the boards as a youngster with the drama group Sparks and as a member of the Moor End Primary School choir.

Sara said “I am honoured to be an Ambassador for Dance Syndrome and excited to help them in their award-winning work, both in Accrington and at Westminster. It is amazing just to see the work that they do and I am looking forward to helping in any way I can. I am proud that such a charity is not only based here but thriving part of the community and provides such fantastic opportunities.”

A headshot photograph of Sara Britcliffe MP

A photograph of Neil Darby dancing with DanceSyndrome in a community centre

Neil Darby

Neil Darby has been a Preston City Councillor since 2014 and for the 2022/23 civic year became the youngest Mayor of Preston in over 170 years. In this role, Neil reached out to people across the city focussing particularly on young people and communities most in need of recognition. Through this he had the opportunity to meet DanceSyndrome and to see some of their work first hand – and even had the honour of joining them in dance for their 2023 contribution to the “One Billion Rising” global dance event.

“One of the highlights of my time as Mayor was coming across DanceSyndrome time and time again in the community, always doing amazing things. And not only do they do everything with a smile on their face, but they make sure that everyone around them is smiling too. They inspire and give confidence to all of their members and provide the most incredible opportunities. Everyone involved with Dance syndrome exudes a joy and enthusiasm which is infectious and wonderful to be a part of. I was delighted to be asked to be an ambassador and it is an honour to support their outstanding work.”

Neil is also involved with local charities Disability Equality NW and Lancashire LGBT as a trustee, and works as a marketing manager for an independent family-run holiday park.

Paula McGowan

“I’m delighted to support DanceSyndrome in all that they do and stand for. Following the premature and preventable death of my youngest child Oliver, I have dedicated my life to campaigning for equal health care for people who have autism and Intellectual Disabilities.

“I have successfully had a petition debated in parliament asking for Doctors, Nurses and allied Health Professionals to receive mandatory face to face training in autism and intellectual disability. This training is currently being developed by NHSE with my continued involvement.

“I have recently moved to Australia with my husband but my campaigning continues to go from strength to strength. I continue to travel back to the UK to present at conferences, medical schools and hospital trusts.

“I applaud DanceSyndrome’s innovative practice where people with a learning disability lead the charge bringing their own unique insights to lead and steer the way, equality and inclusion are a given, and the dance gives everybody a voice to be heard. DanceSyndrome listens. DanceSyndrome is transforming lives, turning heads, people with learning disabilities are living lives hitherto unimagined.

“The DanceSyndrome dancing family offers a community where support and friendship, joy and happiness pervades regardless of who you are.In this environment every person can contribute their own unique assets and talents.

“It is a privilege to engage with the multi award winning DanceSyndrome, to witness the unimaginable fulfilment and pride people with learning disabilities achieve through the dance underpinned by the support appropriate to them as an individual.
I urge you to join me on this extraordinary ride. Every charity needs donors to thrive, and in the case of DanceSyndrome to create a fairer, more cohesive, more inclusive society where every person is valued.

“Oliver’s full story can be found here: www.olivermcgowan.org

Paula McGowan

Trevor Hart

“I am delighted to support DanceSyndrome as an organization in all they do and stand for. I came across DanceSyndrome whilst holding the position of Preston City Councillor and The Mayor of Preston. It was during my year as Mayor I was fortunate to have the opportunity to see firsthand the good work DanceSyndrome engage in and indeed celebrate this with them.

My background is in Education, a Headteacher for 13 years and School Adviser for 3 years. Since retiring from this position I hold positions on Headway board of trustees as Secretary, Cottam Community Association as Chair, Local school Governor, member of Board of Directors for Preston Vocational Centre, member of Lancashire University Creative Communities, President of Preston Sea Cadets, as well as being a full time Grandparent.

As someone who has dedicated his working life to helping youngsters overcome barriers and maximize learning I can only applaud DanceSyndrome’s innovative practice and dedication, where barriers are not just overcome, they are broken down and swept away. In short they turn lives around.

The DanceSyndrome dancing family offer a unique experience for all who engage in its life and all who witness the spectacular demonstrations they share. DanceSyndrome transform lives, turn heads and make the impossible possible in so many ways. They provide inspiration for others and demonstrate ability in all they do.

It is an honour and privilege to be associated with and support DanceSyndrome. I encourage anybody who has not witnessed the good work that takes place to take a few moments to do so, you won’t be disappointed, be part of this truly inclusive journey.”

Coral Horn

Coral is the Founder of Pink Link and the Enterprise Vision Awards. For over a decade, she has been supporting and promoting female entrepreneurship across the North West and beyond.

Coral first met Jen in 2015 when she won the Inspirational Woman of the Year award at the EVAS. Jen wowed the Judges with her focus, determination and vision for Dance Syndrome. Jen understands the issues and challenges that many people with disabilities face. She is an inspiration to other dancers and it is wonderful to see her inspire them to see that it is possible to achieve their dreams.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the EVAS, Jen was named an EVA Star in recognition of the impact she made at the awards.

Coral said “I am honoured to support Dance Syndrome and to become an Ambassador. We have been privileged to share the experience of Jen and her team at both a Pink Link conference and to open the EVAS in 2018. On both occasions, the audience were on their feet applauding for more. Jen inspires her fellow dancers to believe in themselves, improve their physical and emotional wellbeing and help them to learn skills, develop individuality and smash the barriers for inclusivity.”

Coral Horn

Our Patrons

Jim Blair

Jim is currently an Independent Consultant Nurse Learning Disabilities, Associate Professor Intellectual (Learning) Disabilities at Kingston University and St Georges’ University of London, Learning Disability Nurse Advisor Labour Party, Chair/Clinical Advisor Learning Disabilities NHS England for Care Treatment Reviews, Panel Member of the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s Fitness to Practice Panel, Consultant Health Advisor MacIntyre, Independent Consultant Nurse Learning Disabilities West London NHS Trust, Member of the Learning Disability Nursing National Shared decision-Making Council, Chair of the Royal College of Nursing London Board. Jim is a Patron of Dance Syndrome and is on the editorial board of www.intellectualdisability.info

2013-2018 Consultant Nurse Learning Disabilities Great Ormond Street hospital 2008-2013 Consultant Nurse Learning Disabilities at St.George’s Hospital in London. Jim has been the Learning Disability Advisor to the Sates of Guernsey as well as Jersey. Jim is a past President Royal Society of Medicine’s council for the Forum on Intellectual Disability and has been Vice Chairman of Special Olympics Great Britain. Jim has been an Expert Advisor to the Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman; a Specialist Clinical Advisor to the Care Quality Commission and Clinical Lead Health Inequalities at NHS England.

Steve Elias

Steve is currently the presenter and choreographer of the BBC 2 “Our Dancing Town” and the Artistic Director of Carmarthen Youth Opera, he has also recently been made a proud Patron of the London Ballet Foundation. His most recent UK freelance teaching credits include, MA Musical Theatre Degree at  Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, Arts Educational Performance Arts School.

He was also invited by Ken Cazan to teach on the highly acclaimed Vocal Arts and Opera course at the prestigious USC Thornton school of Music, LA. Steve was also awarded a bursary ‘Acting for Others’ from Dance Development Trust. Steve has enjoyed meeting and working with the DanceSyndrome dancers and is excited and honoured to be a Patron.

Russell Hogarth

Russell Hogarth is an Honorary Fellow, Community Ambassador and Entrepreneur in Residence at the University of Central Lancashire.

He is a Fellow of the National Forum for Health and Wellbeing and esteemed advisory member of the British Association of Social workers [BASW] and the Royal College of Psychiatrists. He is the chair and co-founder of the pan University Creative Communities Group and a former company director for the Design in Mental Health Network.

Russell is a trustee for Creativity Works Preston and Appeals Patron, with the Bishop of Liverpool for the young adult and of life network, “LifeNoW”.

Russell is a patron for Direct Transitioning Help. DTH supports members of the Armed Forces and their families to prepare for civilian life.

Russell is a social entrepreneur, philanthropist and University guest lecturer and his expertise as an independent advisor for Community Engagement in Higher Education and his experience in Health and Social care is now recognised both nationally and internationally.

His voluntary and community work has resulted in him attending meetings in the Department of Health Whitehall, the House of Commons, the House of Lords, Portcullis House and the European Parliament.

Russell’s area of special interest is creative teaching as a pathway to inclusion and accessible education and this is highlighted in his book published, with Dr Gayle Brewer entitled Creative Education, Teaching and Learning.

His fellow colleagues admire his great strength, passion and philanthropy and acknowledge the service he has done for the sustenance of humanity.[/column_3]

Baroness Hollins

Baroness Sheila Hollins

Baroness Sheila Hollins was created a crossbench life peer in the House of Lords on 15 November 2010 taking the title Baroness Hollins of Wimbledon in the London Borough of Merton and of Grenoside in the County of South Yorkshire. She is the co-founder and chair of the charity, Books Beyond Words. She is Emeritus Professor of the psychiatry of learning disability at St George’s, University of London; Honorary Professor at the Department of Theology and Religion, University of Durham and President of the Royal College of Occupational Therapists.

Baroness Hollins was President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists from 2005 to 2008. From 2012 to 2013 she was president of the British Medical Association and then chair of the BMA Board of Science. In 2014 Pope Francis appointed her a member of the newly created Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. She also chairs the Scientific Advisory Board of the Centre for Child Protection. In addition to her role as Patron for DanceSyndrome, she is a Patron of Living and Dying Well and RESPOND.

Nirmal Kumar

Professor Nirmal Kumar is President for ENT UK (the professional membership body representing Ear, Nose and Throat surgery) and is Consultant ENT surgeon at Wrightington Wigan & Leigh NHS Foundation Trust, UK where he is also Director of Medical Education. Regionally, he leads the ENT North West research network for the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) in addition to being Honorary Professor at Edge Hill University Medical School where he has led a MCh academic program in otolaryngology. He is a specialist advisor for NICE, FRCS (ORL) examiner of the Royal College of Surgeons, Fellow of the Academy of Medical Educators and until recently vice-chair for Specialist Advisory Committee overseeing training standards in otolaryngology in the UK. He is MD, MCh, PhD examiner for several Universities in the UK and abroad, delivered key note and invited lectures around the world and has published more than 100 peer reviewed medical publications.

Nirmal is keen on supporting the next generation and promoting the talents of young people with particular respect to reducing discrimination based on gender, age, disability or any other protected characteristics. He is excited and feels privileged to be a patron of DanceSyndrome.

Nirmal Kumar

Ciara Lawrence

Ciara has a learning disability and is passionate about seeing people with a learning disability being positively portrayed in the media, like in TV shows. She has talked at conferences at Channel 4 and ITV and got a meeting at Coronation Street studios to meet with their production team about this as they have an actor with a learning disability in the show.

Ciara is a volunteer for the learning disability charity Sunnybank Trust’s weekly Kites club night for adults who have a learning disability. Ciara is also a Trustee board member for Sunnybank Trust.


In 2019 Ciara had her first ever cervical smear test andmade a video about her experience. Because of this, Ciara is now an Ambassador for Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust and a Get Lippy Campaign Ambassador for the gynae cancer awareness charity The Eve Appeal. In her personal life, Ciara got married 7 years ago to her husband Mark. In her spare time, she likes going to the theatre to see shows, singing and spending time with her family.

Sian Lockwood OBE

Sian Lockwood is a graduate of Oxford University with a Masters in Social Work Studies. She worked in a wide range of statutory and voluntary sector organisations in the UK and Africa before becoming in 1991 the Chief Executive of a charity in the north of England, provided a variety of community and family based services including Shared Lives. The charity grew and diversified under her leadership, extending its reach to cover more than eight local authority areas and increasing its turnover fifteen-fold.

Sian was elected Chair of NAAPS UK (the network for family-based and small-scale ways of supporting adults and now called Shared Lives Plus) in 2002 and in that role worked closely with UK governments to promote the value of very small localised services and ensured that legislative and regulatory requirements were appropriate and did not place unnecessary barriers in the way of people establishing and delivering local small scale enterprises. She continued and extended this work when she was appointed as the charity’s first Chief Executive in July 2004 and was instrumental in securing recognition by central and local government of the importance of very small community social care and health services to the successful transformation of adult social care.

Sian is the first Chief Executive of Community Catalysts, a Community Interest Company launched by Shared Lives Plus in January 2010. Over the five years since its launch Community Catalysts has worked through a range of local partners (councils, independent providers and third sector infrastructure organisations) to help local people use their gifts, talents and imagination to set up sustainable social care and health enterprises and to support the development of Shared Lives.

Sian was awarded an OBE for services to social care in the 2010 Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

sion lockwood

Julie Ward MEP

Julie is a Member of European Parliament and an active campaigner for equal rights and social justice.

She has extensive experience of front-line grassroots work, engaging with people from all walks of life as they try to do their best for their families and their communities often in very challenging circumstances.

Julie was recently involved in an international delegation to Belfast to participate in an all-party discussion about the role of the arts in peace-building processes. This, combined with her knowledge of social justice, equality and community cohesion make her an ideal patron for DanceSyndrome.