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balletLORENT's Neurodiverse Project - sharing our findings

Wednesday October 26th 2022Share page

balletLORENT has always had inclusivity at the core of our ethos. Since our founding in 1993, we have aspired to work with everyone, and have been particularly focused on developing our approach to what we can achieve with young people.

In 2020, we received funding from Newcastle Cultural Investment Fund (NCIF) to deliver a programme aimed atimproving our understanding of, and increasing our work with children and young people (CYP) with neurodiverse behaviours, and to develop the provision for these children to continue their cultural journey with the company. The project was evaluated by Debbie Allan MSc, who has worked with us to evaluate numerous projects. A summary of the evaluation report can be downloaded below, and a full evaluation is available on request. We have shared some key points:

Our staff undertook a wide range of training from individuals and organisations specialising in work with and for people with neurodiverse behaviours and SEND (special educational needs and disabilities). One training session that was particularly inspiring was Flip The Narrative (#flipthenarrative), which helped us to reframe neurodiversity as “superpowers” and “not things to hold children back”. Further training also took place through the ADHD Foundation, and independent experts. 

Throughout all the sessions, we learned a great deal about how participants might understand direction and take in information. James MacGillivray, our Education and Projects Manager highlighted that we should never assume that people understand terminology or directions, and that, “they may have their own creative interpretations of a task and their voice and opinion is equally important and valid.” We also learned that some neurodivergent and ASD children find it difficult to sustain eye contact, but this does not mean that they aren’t listening or participating. 

Gavin Coward, one of our Creative Partners, also highlighted that those with autism, “generally don’t like surprises and want to feel safe and comfortable with what they’re doing…It’s good to spell it out and be direct and clear with instructions and creative tasks…Sometimes having a mixed group is great but certain conditions trigger different responses and needs, so it’s trying to cater for that when delivering or planning workshops.”

Before and after the learning took place, staff were asked the same evaluation questions to gauge how beneficial they had found it. All who were able to respond reported an increase in confidence and/or skill and ability. Debbi Purtill, another of our Creative Partners, said, “I wouldn't usually rush in for the 'very confident' option on any learning taking place, as it grows through the teaching opportunities, but I feel I've increased awareness hugely, and been able to put this into practice with the youth academy…I feel much more confidence in options available, and layout/structure/variety of workshop options”.

Our staff were then able to bring their new skills to the delivery of family dance workshops in Scotswood Community Gardens, as part of our new Youth Academy, and during intensive workshops at our base in the John Marley Centre, in Newcastle’s West End 

For the February 2022 half term intensive, we set out to make our rehearsal room a safe and enhancing space, and this started as soon as people walked through the door. James greeted everyone and outlined how the two days would work. There was time given for all questions to be addressed, and parents and carers were free to enter the studio and observe the layout of the room. Local film maker Alex Ayre was commissioned to create a short documentary film featuring our Youth Academy participants: 

balletLORENT Youth Academy from balletLORENT on Vimeo.

We had additional breaks between sessions, and if children needed to step out of any activity, they were free to attend to their own needs for self-regulation. This freedom resulted in a cohesive atmosphere without causing any major disruption and showed how CYP may be empowered to understand their own needs in an atmosphere of care, trust, and acceptance. 

Tom Charlton, a young apprentice dancer who joined balletLORENT as part of the government’s Kickstart scheme, and whose lived experience of ADHD and Autism is inspirational and educative for the Company, commented, “I've never been in a space that is actually as aware as this…I remember being in school…99% of the teachers I had grown up with…would be completely oblivious.”

The NCIF funding has allowed us to deliver high quality training experiences to our staff and has allowed them to build on their current skill level, confidence and knowledge in creative dance workshop delivery that is inclusive of all CYP. Furthermore, it has stimulated our aspiration to continue learning and increasing our ability to support children with ADHD, Tourette’s syndrome and Dyspraxia in a creative movement based environment. 

We are committed to sharing our developments in artistic collaboration and performance experience for young people.  We are inviting meaningful participation with their communities that has the possibility of impacting physical health, emotional wellbeing, and the building of confidence in their abilities. 

Our focus is on inclusion for all. Our working methods ensure that no child or young person should be excluded or stigmatized because of their neurodiversity, or any other reason such as social or cultural background, race or gender. The training we have undertaken over the past year has given confidence to the creative team to embed new approaches which align with the company’s mission and values, and which enhance our continued commitment to ensuring that all children with creative talent have the opportunity to thrive.

The UFOs (The Uniquely Fantastical Ones)

Over the course of three days during the summer holidays, the balletLORENT Youth Academy came together to create a short film, ‘The UFOs’ (The Uniquely Fantastical Ones) as part of the ADHD’s Foundation’s Neurodiversity Umbrella Project 2022. The Neurodiversity Umbrella Project is a UK wide initiative to inspire uplifting and colourful representations of all the different minds that we have. Rehearsals and filming took place at our studio, and in the stunning neighbouring Scotswood Community Gardens. ‘The UFOs’ was released in September 2022.

The UFOs (Uniquely Fantastical Ones) from balletLORENT on Vimeo.

For more information or to request the full report, please email

balletLORENT Neurodiverse Project Evaluation Summary