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Changing lives and building safer communities through dance

Monday, 24 June 2013

An innovative dance project run by Hampshire County Council and Hampshire Youth Offending team is helping to cut crime and turnaround the lives of its young participants, according to figures published this month.

Wessex Dance Academy is a joint project between the Council's Children's Services and Culture, Communities and Business Services departments. Based in Winchester, it aims to transform the lives of young people, aged 14 to 18, who have offended or are at risk of offending, have been excluded from mainstream education, or are looked-after children.

Working alongside professional dance company Dance United, it started as a pilot project between 2009 and 2011, then grew into a fully-fledged dance academy in January last year. The scheme has been running as a termly programme, operating three 12 week programmes a year during which teenagers attend intensive dance tuition and learn to work together and trust each other and their tutors. Each group works towards a live performance in a professional theatre.

They combine the daily discipline of dance with lessons in vital life skills including preparing healthy meals, keeping fit, and making positive life choices. Specialist support is also provided for substance misuse. The Wessex Dance Academy also prepares the young people for when they leave the project, helping them reintegrate back into school or look at alternative education, training or employment options, arranging interviews and supporting applications, and if needed, helping them find accommodation.

One of the project's key aims is to reduce re-offending rates and research from the pilot phase of the project shows that there has been an 89% reduction in the number, and seriousness of offences committed by the young people involved. Property offences have dropped by 41%, violent offences are down 66% and drug offences have been completely eradicated. Those who work with the youngsters also regularly report improvements in their behaviour.

Home Office research carried out into the scheme during its pilot phase also showed that for every £1 invested in the project, there had been a return of £11.93 to society, the County Council, Police and other agencies.

16 year old Mel from the New Forest is among eight young people that make up the Wessex Dance Academy's current group. Commenting on her positive experience, she said: "It made me believe I can achieve anything if I really try. I never thought I was going to be able to get up every morning, but I did and I'm even going to start college in September."

At his latest Decision Day, Hampshire County Council's Executive Member for Culture, Recreation and Countryside, Councillor Keith Chapman awarded a total of £86,100 to support the project over the next two years. Cllr Chapman said: "To date, 55 young people have been through the scheme which offers the teenagers a unique opportunity and positive focus, helping them to raise their self-esteem, build confidence and show them they can achieve and succeed through hard work, dedication and team work.

"And there is real evidence that this scheme is making a positive difference, not only improving behaviour, but giving youngsters the choices and skills they need to build better lives. As a result of their participation, teenagers have re-engaged at school, gained qualifications and gone on to further education. I am delighted that the Wessex Dance Academy continues to produce such wonderful success stories, and positively transform the lives of young people and the communities in which they live."

Hampshire County Council Executive Lead Member for Children's Services, Councillor Keith Mans said: "This scheme is producing very positive results and it is an example of the success that can be achieved as a result of working with our partners and across County Council departments. Every child in the county deserves the best possible start in life, and our work across the whole County Council to support the Wessex Dance Academy in turning around these young people's lives is testament to how we are truly focussed on achieving high outcomes for Hampshire's vulnerable children."

The Academy has earned national acclaim, becoming joint runner-up in the Howard League for Penal Reform Awards 2012 and having been shortlisted in the Children's Services category for the Local Government Chronicle Awards 2013.

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