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Case study: Smashing boundaries, one creative class at time

Inspirational, creative and inclusive leader, Leanne Evans, founder of FTM Dance, overcomes early struggles to create leading Midlands performing arts service for children and adults with a range of diverse abilities and needs.

Leanne Evans is the founder of Forward Thinking Movement and Dance, a provider of immersive performing arts groups and classes for young people with additional needs and diverse abilities. Motivated by her own experiences of growing up alongside family members with disabilities, combined with the support of an inspiring childhood dance teacher and the financial backing of the Prince’s Trust, Leanne opened her first centre in Leicester in 2013. She was just 23 and was still studying at university.

The idea for FTM Dance was borne out of a desire to help children and adults and understanding the transformative power of dance. The venture was inspired by Leanne’s own experiences at home and in her role as a care worker, which she tirelessly undertook alongside her university studies.

Leanne grew up in Leicester and learnt how to build and grow an arts organisation the hard way. After studying Psychology at university, Leanne turned to the Prince’s Trust for support and guidance, “I wouldn’t be where I am today without the Prince’s Trust’s support,” she says. “They helped me to realise my potential, and provided the practical support required to transform an idea into a viable business model.” creative class

The route to success was a tough one, involving late nights, lots of planning and plenty of uncertainty. Her earliest classes saw just a few people attend, but a slow start only fuelled Leanne’s determination to make the venture work. She credits her ultimate success to tireless ambition and the knowledge that through her work, she would make a real difference to young peoples’ lives.

And the hard work paid off. FTM Dance serves more than 600 pupils across Nottingham and Leicestershire,  providing meaningful sessions for children and young adults with a range of needs and for a wide range of abilities. 

FTM provides a fully inclusive environment, where children and young people can engage with social, fun and learning opportunities. They recently opened a new centre in Nottingham. Support staff are highly skilled in a variety of areas, including enteral feeding, epilepsy, colostomy and moving and handling – and the centres are fully equipped with hoists, changing beds and more. FTM Dance delivers meaningful, high quality, regular performing arts sessions, activities and workshops using a person centered approach and provide social inclusion through community events in the local community.

Crucially, FTM Dance provides a respite service to give parents a much needed break, weekday adult services, creative therapies and school holiday clubs.

Leanne believes that it’s crucial that children and young people with additional needs are provided with regular classes and with opportunities to explore their unique abilities, unleash their creativity and bring joy to their peers and community. “These children can do so much,”says Leanne. “Parents with non-disabled children think nothing of dropping their child off for a dance class. We wanted to give our children and young adults similar, regular support.”

“We also provide them with a performance focus, giving them a goal and ultimately a sense of achievement at the end. FTM’s students have performed at Disneyland, Demontfort Hall, the Curve Theatre and the renowned Leicester Caribbean Carnival. They shouldn’t be limited by their additional needs, but rather be allowed to explore their talents, and share them with the world.”

Leanne’s progressive ethos permeates everything she does. She firmly believes that if participants are able to contribute towards a creative process, they will progress emotionally and developmentally, and gain important life skills which will stand them in good stead for the long run. For our students, classes are unadulterated fun and freedom. The learning comes naturally from there.”

FTM Dance has continued to operate throughout lockdown. Its recreational offering quickly moved online providing interactive Zoom sessions, while the social care continued face-to-face, with full PPE, for its most vulnerable families in small groups, with one-to-one support.

“Covid and the lengthy lockdowns have had a significant impact on children across the board,” says Leanne “but isolation is a pervasive problem for children with additional needs and for their parents too”.

“Some are isolated because many services can’t, or don’t want to, meet their needs. Many are on borderline deprivation because of the high cost of raising a child with special needs. Food Banks are already a normal thing in the world we work in. Maybe Covid has made the mainstream population wake up to the massive social injustices in 2021 in the UK. It’s made everyone else feel what our families go through all the time.”

Leanne’s venture has grown quickly and she’s now a real success story. But for Leanne, pridecomes in looking at what her young students have achieved. “I love seeing them progress and grow,” she says. “There is nothing more satisfying than seeing someone realise their potential, and the pride this gives both them and their families.”