DanceSyndrome founder presented with BEM

By Tim Aldred

24 Nov 2023

Jen Blackwell receives BEM

Jen Blackwell, the founder of a local charity which gives people with disabilities the opportunity to dance, has received British Empire Medal at a special event at Lancaster castle.

Jen, who herself has Down's syndrome, launched DanceSyndrome after being unable to find a group that would support her passion for dancing.

After she left school, Jen and her mum, Sue, spent 10 years searching for the right dance training opportunities that would allow her to follow her dream to be a dance leader and performer.

They couldn't find anything that was accessible for Jen because of her learning disability, and so in 2009 they took matters into their own hands and set up their own organisation.

Today that charity offers weekly inclusive dance workshops, its own accredited leadership training and high quality and exceptional performances at a variety of events including the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

After 14 years of striving to inspire people in all areas of life to become more inclusive, Jen was recognised in the 2023 King’s birthday honours with a BEM for services to Disabled People.

Jen was invited to a ceremony where the newly installed Lord-Lieutenant of Lancashire, Amanda Parker, presented medals to Jen and other recipients, on behalf of His Majesty the King.

Amanda was appointed to the role of Lord-Lieutenant of Lancashire by King Charles III following the retirement of Lord Shuttleworth after 26 years in the role. She officially took over the role on August 2, becoming the first female Lord-Lieutenant of Lancashire in almost 500 years.

This is not the first time that Jen and the DanceSyndrome team have been recognised for their work. The charity has been the recipient of many local and national awards over the last 10 years, most notably receiving the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, the MBE equivalent for volunteer groups in 2019.

This prestigious honour recognises the exceptional contributions made to local communities by groups voluntarily devoting their time for the benefit of others. Jen was thrilled to be invited to Buckingham Palace to celebrate achieving this award.

Jen said: "I’m amazed to receive this honour for what I love doing. I’m proud of who I am and the achievements of DanceSyndrome. It’s an honour to inspire others to dance and live a life of their choosing. I believe that everybody can dance and do things they love no matter how other people define us.”

DanceSyndrome managing director Julie Nicholson said: “Everyone at DanceSyndrome is so proud of Jen and we are thrilled to see her recognised in the King’s birthday honours. This is so well deserved after many years of hard work on the part of Jen, her family, and the team of dancers.

"Jen has always wanted to change the world through her dance and when she is given accolades like this it demonstrates the huge difference that one person can make if they are determined and dedicated. It’s great to see success on this level and really shows what can be achieved when people with learning disabilities are properly included and supported to follow their dreams.”

Enjoyed this? Read more from Tim Aldred

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