This year marks the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the MV Empire Windrush in the United Kingdom, when the first passengers disembarked at Tilbury Docks, and this year’s Windrush Day Grant Scheme will support groups to commemorate, celebrate and educate people about the contribution of the Windrush generation and their descendants across communities in our country. The grant scheme forms a part of the government’s commitment to level up opportunity across diverse communities and help build greater trust in public services while improving outcomes for everyone and forging a greater sense of belonging.
Thanks to this funding, Phoenix Dance Theatre’s Learning & Development team will deliver an ambitious project working with 12 schools from across the Leeds area. Participants will attend weekly workshops over a six-week period and will also take part in sessions run by local Black Caribbean artists and community members. The young people will learn about Windrush and the rich history and culture that was consequently brought to Leeds. Using this information, they will individually work with Phoenix dance artists to create a celebratory dance work, culminating with all 12 groups coming together to perform these dance works on stage at a theatre venue in front of a live audience.
Working with a broad range of ages from 6 – 16, and based in both Primary and Secondary Schools, the project will take place in a combination of areas including schools with a low diverse makeup of students and those based in the Caribbean community, helping to build links between schools and communities.
Vicci Hamilton, Head of Learning & Development, said: “We are delighted to have been successful in our funding application and are hugely grateful to the DLUHC for giving us the opportunity to deliver this project which, as a company, we feel passionately about. Phoenix Dance Theatre is in a unique position to deliver this project having been founded over 40 years ago by three Black British men from the Chapeltown area of Leeds. We are proud of our heritage and want to use dance to engage, empower and offer opportunities for young people who may otherwise not be able to access dance."
With this project Phoenix Dance Theatre will engage up to 250 young people and will build upon its continued celebration of the company’s Caribbean heritage. In 2018, its production Windrush: Movement of the People, choreographed by then artistic director Sharon Watson MBE DL, was the company’s first full length narrative work, and also the first contemporary dance piece exploring the arrival of the Empire Windrush. Later filmed and broadcast by BBC Four, this film is being screened at venues and festivals as far afield as Washington DC, USA, to mark the 75th anniversary of Windrush Day.
Vicci continued: “The pupils will be working with first class dance artists, culminating with the incredible opportunity to perform on stage at a professional theatre in our region. Workshops will be based around the theme of celebrating Windrush and the positive contribution of the Windrush generation on Britain. This could be things such as being inspired by an individual, music, a poem, or even the contribution to the NHS by nurses who came over, or the introduction of, and celebration of, the Leeds West Indian Carnival. By embedding the delivery of Black British history into the education system the project will demonstrate the value of the arts and how it can be used in a cross-curricular format. By bringing together children of different ages, and from different areas of Leeds, and by introducing them to artists from the Caribbean community, this project will enable pupils and schools to build links and develop new relationships.”
Thanks to this funding all partner schools will benefit from the project free of charge, building on Phoenix Dance Theatre’s belief that great art should be accessible to everyone because it changes lives, and that great art is created through diversity.
Header Image: Phoenix Youth Performance (Scott M Salt Photography)