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"VR Dance" - Bringing together dance and technology for young people

Press release issued: 4 March 2020

Colleagues at the University of Bristol in partnership with East London Dance have been successful in securing funding for a creative access programme from the Mayor of London’s Young Londoners Fund. The aim of the programme is to engage young people who might be at risk of criminal behaviour to experience dance and technology coming together through workshops and holiday intensives.

The £150,000 grant from the Mayor of London Young Londoner's fund will allow East London Dance, in collaboration with Bristol University, to provide aspirational, accessible and creative activities to help support young people to make positive choices, reach their potential, experience diversity and culture, and develop their creativity.

Debbie Watson, from the School for Policy Studies and colleagues in engineering (Andrew Calway and Chris Bevan), theatre and dance (Lisa May Thomas, PhD student) and Steve Hutson (independent VR creative) will be working with East London Dance to incorporate virtual reality filming and co-produced content development with the young people and to research their experiences of engaging in the programme.

Informed by young people’s experiences and expertise, East London Dance will introduce a brand new offer of dance and technology to engage young people aged 10-16 in east London. In advance of this major roll-out, East London Dance has appointed its first full-time Youth Support Worker to work alongside the dance teams to support young people to reach their potential and overcome barriers. 

Funded for the next three years by a Mayor of London’s Young Londoners grant, VR Dance will offer weekly classes, holiday programmes, residentials and training to young people from Newham and Redbridge who are on the fringes of education and at risk of criminal exploitation. The programme aims to build a community of local young people who will support their fellow participants to develop creativity, leadership and resilience.

The programme will combine the latest immersive technology, provided by Bristol University, with physical performance allowing participants to create alternative realities which will explore and expand the range of possibilities available to them. The participants will share these experiences with their peers to encourage a wider conversation about positive and creative choices.

Professor Debbie Watson, University of Bristol said: “We are very excited to be part of this innovative project to engage young people as meaning-makers of their own everyday experiences through dance and immersive technologies. These combined media have huge potential to offer alternative ways for young people to think about the social and peer pressures around them.”

Polly Risbridger, Chief Executive and Artistic Director, East London Dance said: This major grant from the Mayor of London allows us to continue tackling social issues through the transformative power of dance. 

The funding will support the expansion of the vital grassroots work within our local community; the removal of financial barriers; and the introduction of cutting-edge technology to our activities to  further engage and inspire the young people we work with.

This grant, alongside additional funding from the Mayor of London towards our first dedicated home in a repurposed historic east end building, demonstrates immense confidence in the positive social, creative, and mental and physical health impact that the work we do has on our beneficiaries.”

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “It is vital we help young people make the right choices as early as possible. That means investing in our young people to give them positive opportunities and to learn from the right type of mentors. Our Young Londoners Fund was created to provide young people with positive alternatives to crime” 

See the Mayor of London's full quote in the Young Londoners press release here (6 Feb).

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