COMMENDEES 2012-13: Youth Arts Co-ordinator & Director (Wessex Dance Academy): for contributions to engaging youth offenders through the medium of dance.
[The following article appeared in issue 5 of the Butler Trust’s magazine, Inspire]
When Lorna Digweed and Clare Hobbs suggested to the director of childrens services for Hampshire that they could engage offenders through the medium of dance, the idea seemed ‘crazy’ to him. Five years later, the success of the Wessex Dance Academy has earned the dedicated duo a Butler Trust Commendation. The journey hasn’t been an easy one in the current economic climate, but they have worked tirelessly to turn the vision into reality. Through extensive networking, they established an active steering group that included magistrates, key local authority staff, health professionals, academics and dance representatives. With the help of a firm of local architects and Hampshire County Council’s Children’s Services Department, they completely renovated a former homeless shelter and created a bespoke dance academy.
The academy provides a 12-week programme three times a year, teaching contemporary dance. Young offenders and those at risk of offending – many of whom are disengaged from education – are referred to the programme. They might come from dysfunctional families, some are in the care system and most have been involved in alcohol and/or drug use.
The programme is about far more than teaching young people to dance. Alongside the opportunity to learn to dance to professional standard and earn qualifications, they learn life skills, about health (including sexual health and drugs and alcohol), and advice on fitness and diet. They have help on hand for when things go wrong and are given support over benefits, housings, jobs and careers and keeping out of trouble.
Without Clare and Lorna’s energy and persistence, the project would never have got off the ground and their skills complement each other perfectly. Employed by Hampshire County Council, where she was arts officer before being appointed as director of the dance academy, Clare has been the driving force behind it. Known as an incredible networker with a real passion for her work, she fundraises, books the dance instructors, designs costumes and created the inspiring environment young people need to learn and achieve. Lorna, permanently seconded from Hampshire YOT to the academy, is a vital support, coordinating work behind the scenes and supporting young people with all kinds of issues to help them get through the programme.
The ultimate aim of the programme is to enable young people to access education, training and employment at the end of it and Clare and Lorna work closely with the YOT workers, social workers and education staff who refer young people to the academy to make sure that their work fits with their supervision, care or individual education plan.
‘Startling results’ have been seen for young people who have completed the programme, according to Wessex YOT’s Area Manager, Andy Chartres, with low dropout rates and positive outcomes in terms of increased education, training and employment.
‘I personally have seen very troubled young people, many of whom have had custodial sentences, turn their lives around and have a real purpose to their lives’, he said.
For more information: contact Hampshire Youth Offending Team