Sunderland Dance, a community interest company that operates region-wide providing dance and fitness programmes, was established in November 2007. In its three years of existence, the enterprise has grown rapidly and now generates an annual income of over £144,000. The company operates a mixed income model of commissions, contracts and grant funding.
A joint venture established by directors Deloris Lolita Martin and Christine Pearman, Sunderland Dance works with schools, NHS trusts, regeneration agencies and a range of other organisations and clients to provide dance and fitness packages with the aim of bringing health and well-being to communities across the North East. Its targeted groups are those who are disadvantaged in the community or those who might not normally take part in such activities. The enterprise also focuses on providing the associated benefits of its services, that is, inspiring confidence, motivation and self esteem in its users.
Sunderland Dance offers a range of dance and fitness products for its clients and service users including, but by no means limited to, break-dancing, street, cheerleading, belly dance, pilates and zumba. The enterprise takes an innovative approach to its service provision by identifying gaps in markets. For example, Sunderland Dance has extended its zumba fitness programme to include ‘Teachers Zumba Time’ which aims to use the exercise to combat high levels of stress in teachers and is delivered on-site in schools.
Sunderland Dance also targets specific members of the community to bring about change in their lives through dance and fitness. The community interest company works in partnership with 3 NHS Trusts. Its primary commission is with Sunderland Primary Care Trust. The company delivers its dance on referral package, Jive Alive, as part of Sunderland Councils exercise on referral programme. This programme offers alternative non-drug related ways to tackle for example, depression, obesity and related illness, and low levels of fitness in individuals.
The social enterprise, through its ‘DanceAbility’ programme, provides dance activity for children and young people and adults with disabilities and learning difficulties with the aim of decreasing discrimination against disability and nurture and support a sense of empowerment and self-confidence in participants. Sunderland Dance’s ‘Dare to Be’ programme, delivered through schools, youth organisations and further education establishments, works with young people to use role play and dance as a means of tackling issues relevant to young people such as knife crime, bullying, youth disorder, drugs and racism.
Sunderland Dance has in recent years been successful in bidding for several funds. In March 2009, the enterprise was awarded a £ 79,000 from the Social Enterprise Investment Fund. This enabled it to grow and develop the business and its programmes. The company have also been successful in bidding for a Big Lottery Reaching Communities fund which enabled the enterprise to secure salaries to employ further staff. Sunderland Dance has also received recognition outside the sector – in November of 2010, Deloris was awarded the Best Social Enterprise Award at the annual Women into the Network (WIN) Awards, which celebrates successful, female-led businesses and recognised Sunderland Dance as a successful business trading for social as well as commercial goals.
Yet despite Sunderland Dance’s successes and clear talent in adapting its services to the needs of local communities, the enterprise did not find the path to success easy. “People often don’t grasp the concept of social enterprise – that they combine social and commercial goals. We’ve also experienced difficulty in identifying the ‘right doors to knock on’ to strike up partnerships and business relationships,” says co director Chris Pearman.
What has perhaps contributed to Sunderland Dance’s success is its organic approach to its business direction – the enterprise benefitted greatly from Deloris’ business acumen gained from her previous commercial ventures, and Chris has progressively built up her bid writing skills throughout Sunderland Dance’s journey.
A unique aspect of Sunderland Dance that really shines through and appears tantamount to its success is the ‘family-like’ relationship between directors Deloris and Chris and their staff. This is reflected in the fact that, while Deloris and Chris and a further two non-executive directors make up Sunderland Dance’s Board and decide the direction of the business, the enterprise remains very much staff-oriented – there are no hierarchies at Sunderland Dance, with all staff’s ideas and opinions represented fairly.
This democratic approach is echoed in Sunderland Dance’s plans for the future. The enterprise aims to develop an accredited qualification in street dance to nurture emerging community dance tutors. Sunderland Dance also aims to extend its current outreach even further, by offering its services and products to communities in Yorkshire and is looking to purchase a larger, more centrally located building in Sunderland city centre which it hopes to develop into a community dance academy and wellness hub. The company also intends to build on its 6 core staff and 29 sessional dance tutors, to enable the development and expansion of its outreach work and programmes and packages. Sunderland Dance is also contributing to social enterprise development by supporting an emerging Community Interest Company, Endorfun, which provides progressively built-up, rather than stagnant, fitness classes for all.
What can other social enterprises learn from Sunderland Dance’s journey? “We operate from a ‘can do’ perspective – we’re not afraid to try new things and make mistakes and learn from them,” says Chris, “The most important lesson we have learnt is to believe in ourselves and our services – this is where our true success lies.”
Deloris Martin on 0191 565 7270