Circus that teaches confidence tricks

21 November 2018 | West and South West England

Salisbury Circus

This circus club teaches young people vital social skills during training sessions.

The Salisbury Circus Club teaches young people circus tricks to help develop their confidence and build social skills. Buzz Action Foundation, the umbrella organisation behind the enterprise, provides and supports positive activities for children, young people and families across the South West.

Every Monday night in a small community hall in Salisbury you might find one child hanging from a trapeze while maybe balancing precariously on a unicycle. In another part of the room youngsters are attempting ‘aerial arts’ which involve wrapping and manoeuvring your body around two lengths of silk fabric rigged from the ceiling.

A group of others are juggling to the best of their ability. It could be a scene from the hit musical of the summer, The Greatest Showman.

The Circus Club is one of their most striking projects, engaging with 10,000 young people each year and thereby helping the local community thrive.

It is run by ‘Jonathan the Jester’ - Jonathan Russell, 54. He helps teach circus tricks as well as vital social and life skills to the youngsters, some of whom were chronically shy before joining.

“It was a happy accident that we ended up with a bunch of kids,” he explains. “When we launched the circus club we were aiming at adults and just teaching them a few juggling skills. But then a whole lot of youngsters came down, and so we embraced that. We have a full age range of members, but most of them are youngsters.

“Many of them came along because they did not enjoy team sports at school. They felt left out. We offered something different. But the funny thing is, that many gained so much confidence that they went on to join school sports teams like football after all.”

Jonathan, a youth worker and juggler by trade, started the club in 2008 with a colleague. It became so popular in the local area that by 2010 it became a fully fledged youth circus. They also recently opened a second venue in nearby Ludgershall. Around 30 children are signed up to each group.

“I am proud of them all, but a few stand out. One of our boys started coming when he was nine. He was going to a special needs school because they thought he had dyspraxia which affects coordination. Within nine months of hard work he was riding a unicycle and back in mainstream schooling.”

Another lad, Adam, is one of the original members from 2008. A shy boy, he felt under pressure doing sports at school. By the end of 2012 his confidence had grown so much that he was chosen to appear in “Britain’s Got Variety”, an X-Factor type talent show for those with circus skills. Adam now teaches the younger ones.

“I’ve seen a real change in Adam, he was quite shy and reserved but now he is a great juggler and while he has grown in confidence he very gracious with it,” says Jonathan.

When some of the children showed an interest in accompanying Jonathan to events like fetes and firework nights, he decided to bring them along.

And now every summer they also visit villages and housing estates to share their skills, setting up on remote areas of grass. They are always a huge hit.

“We have some very talented youngsters. But it isn’t about the performance for us. It is just about getting involved and enjoying yourself. It is about adopting a work ethic.”

Performing at the Paralympics in 2012 is one event he is particularly proud of. “We were invited along for one day, but were such a hit they asked as to come back every day!”

Jonathan stretches himself thin, apart from the circus club, he has several other youth clubs he is involved in.

“I am a very busy man, it is hard fitting it all in. I need an eight-day week and 26-hour day. But I couldn’t do it without help from all the volunteers who pitch in including my mother! Together we make it happen.

“When I was younger, I used to be a show-off. But as I got older I realised the youth around me needed a mentor and guidance. Now I get a real buzz helping them out and making a difference.”

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