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Crowning glory: Jubilee hopes for Blackpool kids

Impressed by their professionalism, organisers of the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations have invited a group of young people in Blackpool to take part. But they need the community’s help to get there.

Angelo Diamante was nine years old when he moved to Blackpool from the Philippines in 2014. In a strange and unfamiliar town he found community at Skool of Street – a charitable organisation delivering a free programme of music, dance, visual and performing arts to children and young people. Now he’s one of a group of young people who have been hand selected to represent the skool and the town in front of the queen.

Angelo and his dance crew are fundraising to get themselves to the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Pageant on 5 June. Artistic performers, dancers, musicians, military personnel, key workers and volunteers will unite to tell the story of The Queen’s 70-year reign in an awe-inspiring festival of creativity. The Pageant will combine pomp and ceremony, street arts, theatre, music, circus, costumes as well as cutting-edge visual technology.

Co-director Aishley Bell Docherty said the young people were invited to perform by London-based artist Manuela Benini, after she worked with them on the production of the recent Get Dancing film.

“Manuela said she had never experienced such professionalism and respect from children their age and that they were a credit to Blackpool,” Aishley said proudly. “She then found a way to include them in the pageant but concluded that they must raise their own funds to make the journey, as including performers from outside of London was not her original plan.”

They are hoping to raise reach their £5,000 which will enable them to pay for travel costs, accommodation, food and other expenses for up to 20 young people.

A crowdfunder has raised £350 and Booths Supermarket, a great supporter of the skool, generously donated a further £500.

Co-director Samantha Bell Docherty said: “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for these brilliant young people. This is not an open invitation, they have been personally selected by a London producer, based on their professionalism on another project. They are a credit to our town.”

“They are professional, interesting, original young talent coming out of Blackpool and that’s so exciting.”

A hip-hop enclave in central Blackpool, Skool of Street has a wildly original offer compared to traditional dance and performing arts schools. It’s free to those who can’t afford it and it prides itself on offering something for everyone who enters through its graffiti-clad doors, whether they are natural performers or not. It attracts boys, children from a diverse range of cultures and children from underprivileged backgrounds – all of whom are less likely to access the arts.

“I moved here from Sweden and I had no clue about any actives or fun stuff to do,” said 15 year-old Dylan Dennis who has now taken on a leadership role both teaching and managing the building. “Then I met Sam and Aish at my primary school and I went, and it was really fun – I’d never experienced anything like that before. Now I’m basically here all the time.”

Photo: Claire Griffiths

According to the 2011 census, in Blackpool just 3.3 per cent of residents are classed as ethnic minorities compared to 9.9 per cent in the North West and 14 per cent in England. Sarah brought her daughter to Skool of Street after moving to Blackpool from Manchester. She said: “My daughter’s mixed race and we moved here from a place where people looked like her to a place where people don’t. Bringing her to Skool of Street she feels like she’s back in a multicultural environment – there are people from everywhere and that, for us, is worth 100 times more.”

Blackpool-born singer and Skool of Street patron Rae Morris emphasises the importance of exposing children from the town to wider cultural experiences such as being part of the Jubilee Pageant.

“I wish this work had been around when I was a kid growing up in Blackpool, I can feel an energy coming out of the Skool of Street that is so creative and so good for the children,” she said. “They are professional, interesting, original young talent coming out of Blackpool and that’s so exciting. I’m a huge fan.”

Now a Skool of Street veteran, 17-year-old Angelo become a role model to younger pupils.

“Being a part of this movement makes me feel like I can influence kids to do certain dance moves and skills and enable them to fight their fears and be more confident,” he said. Dancing in the Jubilee Pageant would be his crowning glory.

“Being invited to London to perform for the Queen is amazing and it would be such a cool experience. It would mean that I have accomplished such a great achievement and I would be so proud of myself, it would be an honour.”

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    Antonia Charlesworth Stack is a journalist and editor from Blackpool. She was deputy editor of Big Issue North magazine and is editor of Blackpool Social Club. Antonia is also the founder of Reclaim Blackpool, a women's safety campaign that began life as an article she wrote for Blackpool Social Club. She's a contributing author to the Lancashire Stories anthology with her story about a Blackpool performer, The Call of The Sea. The book is available for free in libraries across the county.

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