By Thames Menteth-Wheelwright, HACT Housing Communications Intern
For over 420 young people a year in Lewisham, Love2Dance is more than just a streetdance programme. It has built confidence, encouraged creativity, and fostered leadership skills. Love2Dance has demonstrated the power of arts initiatives in building and connecting local communities.
Love2Dance was started in 2015 and is a partnership between Lewisham Homes and the Albany, a performing arts centre in Deptford. It provides weekly term time sessions across three sites in Lewisham – Sydenham, Honor Oak and Deptford – for 5-18 year olds, who take part in workshops, classes, masterclasses and live performances. And thanks to the funding from Lewisham Homes, it’s all free.
Classes are delivered by freelance artists, led by choreographer Aaron Augustus, a former IDO World Hip-Hop Dance Champion, with additional support from youth workers. In 2018, the initiative won the Arts and Culture Award at the London Youth Awards, testament to the impact that it has had on young people in Lewisham, many of whom are living in low socio-economic areas in the borough.
The Albany’s relationship with Lewisham Homes allows the centre to deliver its dance programme “right in the heart of Lewisham’s communities and really market it to people living in social housing,” says Kirsty Collander-Brown, who runs the youth programme at the Albany.
The Albany promotes the initiative through the housing association’s channels, such as its newsletter, magazine and house drops. For Collander-Brown, this has been a game-changer in terms of reaching incredible, diverse and talented young people. The partnership has resulted in the Albany being able to connect with young people “where they live… in places which are local, accessible and relevant.”
As a result, Lewisham Homes residents make up more than half of Love2Dance’s performers. Many of them also attend the Albany’s other youth programmes. While recent research projects have highlighted the significant lack of ethnic diversity in the creative sector currently, the Albany is an exception: 87% of the young people it works with on its programmes are from BAME backgrounds.
Many of the young people taking part have been involved in the programme for three or four years now and “for many this is a significant chunk of their lives,” says Collander-Brown, “It’s brilliant to see them progress, grow and develop”. On top of improving physical fitness and enabling young participants “to connect with each other and make friends”, Love2Dance is crucially about “using dance to express yourself and build your confidence.”
Its peer mentor scheme, which sees those who have been through the programme take on teaching roles within it, has been particularly successful at developing the leadership skills of young people. Even though many who participate don’t aspire to careers in dance, Collander-Brown has seen how the skills that Love2Dance fosters – imagination, creativity, and confidence – often open up career and job opportunities in a diverse range of other industries.
As a result of Love2Dance’s success, the Albany received funding to develop their digital offer, using young people’s interest in dance as a platform to give them new skills. They are taught video making, familiarised with new technologies and encouraged to creatively explore what they can do with just their phones and a laptop.
While other programmes which support young people into jobs more often than not concentrate on CV writing and employment interventions, Collander-Brown points out that “the arts have a real value” in opening up a more diverse range of career possibilities for young people.
In community investment terms, Love2Dance’s success translates easily into numbers: for every £1 invested in Love2Dance, the community receives £4.33 in social value, a number derived from the Social Value Bank.
Perhaps the strongest evidence for Love2Dance’s impact, however, has been the overwhelmingly positive feedback from parents and the wider community. The annual Love2Dance showcase, where young people across the whole programme come together to perform in the main theatre space at the Albany, “is really joyful – there are so many moments of celebration of achievement, and a sense of progress and development,” says Collander-Brown.
Love2Dance also produces one full-length hip hop theatre production, which sells out to local audiences each year, a testament to the community’s interest and support for the programme. The production platforms the “immense talent of our local young people to make extraordinary art, with the investment of high production values to make work led by young people, which is highly prized by local audiences and increasingly, the wider arts industry.”
Kareem Dayes, Community Relations Officer at Lewisham Homes, added: “Love2Dance is much loved and appreciated by our residents. It gives our young people a platform to showcase their talents, build their confidence and make new friends. Our partnership with The Albany means we are able to offer an exciting and engaging range of opportunities and cultural activities to our residents.
Our partnership also gives us a platform to engage with young people around emerging issues and we are able to work with The Albany to come up with new projects and opportunities with young people as leaders and co-creators.”
For more information about Love2Dance contact the Love2Dance team at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re interested in promoting your community initiative through the Centre for Excellence in Community Investment, please contact Adam Chester at email@example.com
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