‘We’re teaching young people life skills through dance’: inside Blackpool’s Skool of Street community project

In the UK, 약 a third of UK primary school pupils don’t take part in any form of drama, music or dance, and children from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely than those from wealthier homes to learn to play an instrument, sing in a choir or play in a school orchestra.

Yet activities such as these make a tangible difference to young people’s lives. Primary school children from disadvantaged backgrounds who take part in after-school clubs like these get better results than peers from similar homes who do not. Alongside improvements in grades, studies show that sports and musical activities can boost self-esteem and confidence, help build relationships, and encourage children to become more physically active, as well as broadening their horizons culturally and socially.

Aishley Bell-Docherty and her wife Samantha Bell-Docherty know this all too well. Having first met as teenagers at a local theatre school, they quickly bonded over their passion for hip-hop dance and street culture. 오늘, the pair act as creative and artistic directors of the Blackpool-based charity, Skool of Street, one of the causes to benefit from Co-op’s Local Community Fund, designed to help make a difference in local communities.

“We set up Skool of Street in 2013 after delivering dance and arts projects in Blackpool for a number of years,” says Aishley. “We noticed there were lots of barriers for young people who couldn’t afford to pay for dance, art, music or drama classes. There was a complete lack of provisions for kids needing an outlet for creativity, unless they were able to afford the monthly fees.” The pair put their heads together and, after taking advice from locals in the community, Skool of Street was born.

Their first dance project launched in 2014 during the summer holidays and the pair were inundated, 와 75 young people signing up. It’s since evolved to become much more than a dance school, Aishley says. “People often refer to Skool of Street as a ‘dance’ school but it’s more of a cultural movement, since it’s really about the culture rather than the dance itself. Dance is the medium we use to connect, but with that, come many other elements.”

Sessions take place after school and during school holidays, with those able to pay doing so, and the team working to secure sponsorship and subsidies for those who can’t. Co-op members have helped raise £3,363 for Skool of Street, making them one of the 25,000 local causes across the UK supported by the fund since 2016. In the past five years alone, Co-op members, colleagues and customers have raised more than £100m for local communities, causes and charity partners. For every pound that Co-op members spend on Co-op branded products and services, 2p is shared between the Local Community Fund for local causes and the Community Partnerships Fund to support like-minded national organisations.

Samantha describes the funding as a “lifeline”, being used to allow young people without financial means to attend classes. “It’s also enabled us to match-fund via other charities, which is more important than ever because much of our fundraising comes from shows and demonstrations, which weren’t possible during the pandemic. Knowing we’re supported by our local community is priceless, it means a lot to us," 그녀는 말한다.

It was Samantha’s own experiences that shaped her desire to give back to young people in the community. “Growing up, I’d always had a love of hip-hop dance but when I was 16, my dad was attacked by three local boys. He was left for dead on the promenade in front of me. 이후, I went off the rails until a member of my family suggested I get back into dancing. Slowly, I fell in love with dancing and hip-hop culture again, and began training more, travelling to different places to learn new styles and meeting people through my love of dance. It was so impactful, and is why I wanted to do this.”

오늘, sessions on everything from dance and rapping to art and sustainable fashion take place at the charity’s home, House of Wingz, which is set up to resemble a real home. “We have a lounge, kitchen, dance and recording studio, and young people are self-motivated to look after the space – they feel like they have ownership over it, which is important,” says Aishley.

The impact the sessions have is far-reaching. “Initiatives like this are about young people having tangible life skills,” says Aishley. “It’s about learning how to be self-motivated, confident and work as a team. Through our sessions, young people learn to develop the self-belief to put themselves out there for other things, like taking exams, walking into a room and making friends with people and taking pride in the way they look. It’s all carried over into everything else they do. Many young people using our services have complex home lives, but dance and music are real forms of escapism. To know we’ve given them an outlet to make them feel good, even for an hour or two, is why we do it.”

Thanks to the money raised by Co-op’s members, there are major plans afoot. “We want Skool of Street to grow in terms of the number of kids we’re reaching, but also the amount of creative and sporting opportunities, 너무,” says Aishley. “We’d like to bring in skateboarding, because it’s part of street culture and will open doors to more young people. We’re also implementing employment opportunities for young people coming through the ranks. Eventually we’d like them to run sessions themselves – after all, they know how because they’ve experienced it first-hand. It will be great for the wider community, helping shift negative perceptions many people have about Blackpool. There are a huge amount of incredibly creative people here, and we’re hoping these young people will help grow a stronger, more culturally exciting landscape here.

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