On tour with the Flamingo Chicks

06 November 2018 | West and South West England

Flamingo Chicks

Brilliant “ballet not barriers” dance school celebrates five years with national tour.

A dance school that helps disabled and non-disabled children learn and perform together has marked five phenomenal years with a UK tour, supported by TSB.

Flamingo Chicks opened to just 15 pupils in Bristol back in 2013. But since then the groundbreaking initiative has welcomed close to 3,000 pupils a year and has opened in locations across the UK including Leeds, York and London.

Flamingo Chicks gives disabled and sick children the opportunity to enjoy ballet alongside their non-disabled friends. Youngsters undergoing treatment for cancer, children who are visually impaired, those with autism, cerebral palsy and Down’s syndrome all take part.

Classes boost strength and flexibility, and increase social skills and self-esteem. They provide a place for parents to bond, too. Flamingo Chicks is supported by donations, as well as the work of more than 350 volunteers. It is a fantastic example of people helping people, in this case young people.

The last few years have seen them win plaudits including the TSB Community Partner Award at Pride of Sport 2016. TSB also supported a UK tour with funding earlier this year, which helped the school set up classes all over the UK. And they currently feature in a new short film on ITV.

"We’ve had a phenomenal five years," says Katie Sparkes, who was inspired to start the dance group locally because her daughter Poppy, 12, has cerebral palsy. “Our vision is a world where disabled people have the same range of opportunities; where everyone works together as equals."

And the group is constantly evolving. New this month is a collaboration with Lightyear Foundation, a UK charity looking to break down barriers to science education and get more disabled children involved in STEM subjects - science, technology, engineering and maths.

The new project dubbed ‘Science Ballet’ is being brought to hundreds of children through a new series of workshops in areas including Bristol, Cardiff, Yorkshire and London.

Sessions will use movement to help children energetically engage with science whilst being active and creative. They will explore Space and the Human Body as well as learning key life skills.

Katie explained: “Statistically, 34% of medical procedures for disabled children have to be repeated because of anxiety or sensory issues. To combat this, we partnered with the Lightyear Foundation this term to continue our theme of active learning and to help familiarise children with medical environments.

“We had fun learning about the lungs inflating and deflating with a giant yellow scrunchie. The children were the 'lungs' moving in and out and those inside grew and shrunk with them! And finally, we also got used to how it might feel to have an EEG with a brightly coloured EEG maypole!

“The NHS heard about our work and wanted to get involved too, so it has also become part of the NHS 70th birthday celebrations. This included us presenting at their Expo in Manchester as part of the ‘Ask, Listen, Do’ agenda on autism and learning disability.”

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