26th March 2018

Growing up North: Challenging pre-conceptions about access to opportunities

Author: Leanne Kirkham, Northern Ballet 

As a proud Northerner, I am pleased to see a report which identifies the challenges and opportunities facing children and young people living in the north of England. I’m originally from Blackpool, a town where people think the streets are paved with gold during the lucrative summer and illumination season but must endure a stark winter each year. I spent several years training and working in London and returned to my seaside roots before moving to Yorkshire to further my career opportunities. I now live in Hull and work in Leeds as Director of Learning at Northern Ballet, the UK’s busiest touring ballet company.

My role is to ensure the work of Northern Ballet reaches as many children and young people as possible, and to challenge pre-conceptions about who can access ballet. Last year, we worked with over 50,000 children and young people across the UK through theatre visits, workshops, regular classes and professional training opportunities. I firmly believe that when children are exposed to arts and cultural activities, it fosters their imagination and self-expression whilst enabling them to develop skills that will be the driving force behind the growing UK creative industries. In particular, dance not only offers a creative outlet, but also a range of health benefits for positive physical and mental wellbeing which is crucial to nurture now, more than ever as our NHS is struggling to cope with the demands of a 21st Century population.

Since 2012, Northern Ballet has created Children’s Ballets which tour across England, predominantly in the North to offer access to ballet for towns and communities who wouldn’t usually be able to see live ballet. As part of the tour, our dance artists visit schools, nurseries and libraries across the country to give children the opportunity to learn some ballet before seeing the performance, making the experience as accessible as possible. Over the last 6 years, these productions have reached a live audience of 400,000, a television audience of over 4 million and 21,779 children have taken part in dance workshops.

We also offer a wide range of activities at our base in Leeds. Each week approximately 500 children and young people join us to develop their dance skills and have fun. We are proud to host the only Centre for Advanced Training in classical ballet, which gives children the opportunity to access professional dance training, without moving away from their families and friends. To ensure that these opportunities are accessible to everyone, we work in local primary schools to ‘spot’ potential talent, then offer a pathway to professional training at our state of the art studios in Leeds City Centre.

I am particularly passionate about our work with disabled participants. We offer a range of accessible dance projects including a dance course for wheelchair users and a project with Martin House Children’s Hospice which creates opportunities for children with a life-limiting condition to enjoy dance, photography and live theatre with their parents and siblings, creating lasting memories for all the family.

Northern Ballet is committed to working with people of all backgrounds and I am glad to see that the Commissioners’ report highlights the need to further support disadvantaged children and young people. I am working with arts organisations across Leeds to highlight the wealth of careers and opportunities in the arts and cultural sector, with a focus on immersive experiences, aligning well with the findings of this report.

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