I’ve just returned to rainy Lancashire after a brilliant three days at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with our amazing dance team. I’ve been privileged to be at the helm of DanceSyndrome, this incredible, inspirational and life-changing charity, since 2014 – it’s been a roller-coaster journey of joy, challenge and rather a lot of dance (of course!).

I love to dance: it makes me feel alive, makes time stand still and makes me want to share the feeling with everyone. My younger brother Craig, who happens to have Down’s Syndrome, is a serious ballroom dancer (not like his silly sister who lives to disco) and has had to put up with me dragging him onto dance floors his whole life.

I’ve sung in bands for over 30 years and I know about the art of performance.  I’ve worked in business development roles and helped to set up a community interest company of which I’m still a volunteer director. To say that managing DanceSyndrome ticks all my boxes is a serious understatement – it’s my dream job.  


During the first 12 months in the role, I spent time learning about the work of the charity and getting to know Sue and Jen Blackwell, the mum and daughter team who founded DS in 2009.  Their combined passion and energy was infectious.

They were looking for a way 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.

We needed the right team to make it happen. Enter Sophie Tickle, Lead Artist, an incredible talent and experienced practitioner in the world of inclusive dance. Working alongside Dance Leader and Trustee Peter Pamphlett, our Dance Leader training programme was born – Dance By Example – 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!  Sarah Calderbank joined us to take over our PR, marketing and social media. I applied everywhere for funding, had many rejections and learnt some tough lessons. But then we were incredibly fortunate to receive three 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: 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 their individual skills, talents and assets were beginning to surface.  They were invited to speak at conferences across the UK, Jen Blackwell won Inspirational Woman of the Year in the Enterprise Vision Awards 2015, Becky Rich won Volunteer of the Year in the Lancashire County Council Pride Awards 2016.

The Dance Leader Team won The Sporting Chance Awards 2016. DanceSyndrome won Charity of the Year in the Red Rose Awards 2017 and Charity of the Year in the E3 North West Business Awards 2018!  

Our board of trustees has changed and grown too, with experts joining our team to help us achieve our mission and vision.  More volunteers joined our ranks to help us fundraise. The future is looking good! I’m so very proud and privileged.  

The Dance Leaders drive the work of the charity and I try my very best to keep up with them. They let me know in no uncertain terms if I’m lagging behind!  And when my energy fails as it does sometimes after the endless admin, managing, planning and organising that goes with the territory, then this dancing family gets me back on my toes every time. 

Further information

Click here to visit DanceSyndrome’s website.