DanceSyndrome, the Lancashire-based, national award-winning charity, is celebrating ten years of supporting learning-disabled people through the power of dance. But its ambitions for the next decade lie way beyond the Red Rose county.
The dream of founder Jen Blackwell who has Down’s Syndrome, DanceSyndrome holds inclusive dance sessions predominantly within the North West to deliver leadership, participation, performance and training opportunities to learning-disabled people. Those without disabilities, but with an interest in dance, are also warmly welcomed.
Sessions run from centres in Preston, Clitheroe, Accrington, Chorley and Wigan. In the last 12 months more than 5,500 people have been reached with workshops and performances taking place as far afield as Nottingham, Edinburgh and London.
Catapulted into the spotlight as a champion for services to disabled people, Jen helped secure a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Services in 2019. She is included in The Shaw Trust Disability Power List 100, an annual publication of the 100 most influential disabled people in the UK.
Jen launched the charity not only to indulge her love of dance but also to realise her potential as a dance leader, able to instruct and encourage others.
Jen said: “DanceSyndrome is my dream come true and it’s helping so many others like me to lead better lives.
“Our workshops don’t only help people with their physical and mental wellbeing, they also ensure they gain the life, communications and transferable employability skills to help them find work and enjoy the same ways of living as all around them.”
Current figures estimate that just 17 per cent of adults with a learning disability in England are in paid work, compared to 74 per cent of the general population.
Set against a backdrop of funding cuts and increased costs, DanceSyndrome launched its ‘Perfect 10’ campaign in September 2019. The 10-week fundraising mission was to raise £10,000 to mark the charity’s anniversary and, more importantly, to enable it to continue to deliver the dance sessions that have become vital not only for participants but also for their carers and families. While this target was reached within 10 weeks, the constant need to raise money to survive and then to grow remains.
DanceSyndrome managing director, Dawn Vickers, is realistic about the challenges faced by the charity despite its remarkable successes. She says: “In the current economic climate there is increased pressure on our resources and intense competition for funding, while the major funding streams we have relied on in previous years are coming to an end.
“The Perfect 10 campaign helped remind the local community how much difference we make to those who are in a vulnerable position and those for whom DanceSyndrome provides the physical, mental and social support without which their quality of life would be diminished. The £10,000 we raised is brilliant, but to survive and achieve our targets we need to carry on gaining regular support and donations.”
The support of local businesses is vital and Dawn believes that corporate fundraising and sponsorship can yield huge benefits to participating companies, large and small.
Dawn continues: “We couldn’t have achieved the fantastic things we have as a charity or have such vision for our growth without the help of some of our key corporate supporters. They understand the pressures charities are under and align with our business model, and hopefully help set us up for a healthy future which will see us support thousands more disabled people.
“Joining with us on this journey can help businesses position themselves as champions of diversity, equality and inclusion locally and nationally whilst bring together employees united towards helping a worthwhile cause.
“We recognise the commercial benefits of sponsorship available to our corporate partners as well as being massively appreciative of the financial contribution they make to our continued operation. As we continue to grow we are keen to partner with similarly-minded organisations, locally and nationally.”
One such company is Preston-based, Champion Accountants, which has provided business consultancy and accountancy services to streamline operations and scale the charity in line with its growth plans.
Russell Spencer, client manager at Champion Accountants, commented: “Ten years is a huge milestone for DanceSyndrome, and Jen and her team are some of the hardest working people we have met. It has been a privilege to be part of its growth journey so far, and we’re proud to have been the company entrusted with helping DanceSyndrome achieve its social franchise ambitions. The work the charity does is truly life-changing for many, and we will continue to play a key role in the delivery of its services as this worthy cause grows to become a household name across the whole of the UK.”
Figures estimate that 90% of charities fail within the first five years of operations, but DanceSyndrome continues to defy these odds.
“We’re not resting on our laurels,” says Dawn. “Our first target is the £100,000 to survive and maintain current services, reach and quality. Then comes national expansion. Without laying the right foundation we won’t be around to achieve our bigger ambitions, so now’s the time for supporters to get on board.”