Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Spotlight on: Jen Blackwell, founder of DanceSyndrome

We live in extraordinary times. I could never have envisaged that in 2022, 13 years after creating DanceSyndrome out of sheer frustration, that we would now be cited, celebrated and applauded by organisations across the UK.

My life has been immeasurably enhanced by Jen, now aged 40, a daughter born to me who happens to have Down’s syndrome. Written off at birth, given no hope, Malcolm (Jen’s Dad) and I fought for her right to be an equal citizen, and now she is trailblazing for 1.4 million people with learning disabilities, teaching all who have the eyes to see that no one should ever be marginalised, ignored or forgotten.

In just one week, Jen heard that her charity DanceSyndrome and our mum/daughter duo had been shortlisted for three different awards:

1. Charity Champion

Best Business Women Awards 2022

The Best Businesswomen Awards celebrates the outstanding success of female entrepreneurs. Jen will be awarded either a Silver or Gold Award at a gala event at The Hilton in Wembley on Friday 30th September.

2. HER Abilities

She Inspires Awards 2022

This award is given to a special woman who, despite her disabilities, inspires people through her positive contribution to the community, workplace or family. The awards will be presented in a hybrid event on Thursday 24th November, with people attending in person at the University of Bolton Stadium in Horwich or online from around the world.

3. Charity of the Year Award   

Enterprise Vision Awards 2022

North West’s premier business awards for women’ winners to be announced at a glittering awards evening on Friday 23rd September at the iconic Empress Ballroom in The Winter Gardens in Blackpool.

Previous awards for Jen have included Inspirational Woman of the Year, Enterprise Vision Awards 2015, the Prime Minister’s Points of Light Award 2018 and the Shaw Trust Disability Power 100 list three years in a row from 2018-2020. In 2021, Jen was immensely privileged to be invited to join the judging panel for the Disability Power 100.

Earlier this year, Jen was recognised by f:entrepreneur, a campaign run by Small Business Britain which celebrates 100 dynamic and inspirational businesses led by women in the UK each year.

Giving people with a learning disability a voice through inclusive dance

Whilst Jen’s story is beyond anything I could possibly have anticipated, it’s so important to recognise that DanceSyndrome is the making of Jen and visa versa; you wouldn’t have the one without the other.

The charity, founded in 2009, is led by dancers with learning disabilities. It has been the recipient of numerous awards including the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service 2019 and People’s Choice Award from One Dance UK in 2021. Just last month, DanceSyndrome was featured on prime-time television twice.

Michelle Ovens CBE, founder of Small Business Britain, perfectly describes how the charity has helped to raise awareness of the value of disability led businesses.

She said: “There are 14 million disabled people in the UK and nearly 20% of working age adults are disabled. Many start their own business and many more aspire to. Jen Blackwell and the team at DanceSyndrome play a massive role in helping to inspire those around them and raise awareness about the value and vibrancy that disabled-led businesses bring to the UK. Jen is lighting up the way for others and is a true beacon of optimism and energy.”

These are incredible achievements and testimony to the power of giving people with a learning disability their voice through inclusive dance. Underpinned by appropriate and skilled support, DanceSyndrome breaks down barriers and removes stigma. It practices inclusion, diversity and equality of opportunity, naturally resulting in leaders from unexpected places.

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