Inclusive dance charity receives the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service

  • Highest award a voluntary group can receive, equivalent to an MBE
  • Flamingo Chicks sees 3,000 children through its classes each year
  • Its virtual sessions in response to coronavirus have achieved 100,000 views
  • Charity actively supported by 350+ volunteers

Flamingo Chicks, a Bristol based inclusive dance charity, has been honoured with the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, the highest award a voluntary group can receive in the UK.

The organisation gives disabled children and those with illnesses such as cancer, the opportunity to enjoy dance and explore movement alongside their friends. It also provides a vital peer support network for parents and carers, intergenerational volunteering, global outreach and advocacy.

Katie Sparkes started the charity in 2013 as her daughter Poppy, who has cerebral palsy, wanted to dance. She amassed a volunteer network who supported her dream to create an inclusive community tackling social isolation amongst disabled children and their families. Now, more than 350 volunteers, aged 18-80 come together to enable all children to enjoy dance classes with friends, while providing a vital peer support network for parents and carers.

Katie Sparkes, Founder and CEO of Flamingo Chicks, says: “Whether assisting our young people to dance in class or providing IT support and fundraising, volunteers are the heartbeat of the Flamingo flock. It’s thanks to them our charity has been able grow, flourish and create real social change. We now see 3,000 Flamingo Chicks through our doors every year and we’ve campaigned and performed at some incredible locations from Downing Street to the United Nations in New York. Collectively, our volunteers break down barriers to inclusion and showcase the importance of disabled and non-disabled people interacting together.

“The intergenerational approach Flamingo Chicks takes to volunteering ensures we have a wonderful pool of people all interacting with others at different life stages – a great way to learn from each other. We are absolutely thrilled for our volunteers to win this award and it’s a real testament to their hard work, dedication and care for our families.”

Flamingo Chicks started in Bristol but now also has regular classes in South Wales, Yorkshire and London. It also operates an outreach programme delivering workshops in hospitals and hospices plus a global outreach programme.

From the very start, volunteering at Flamingo Chicks was an integral part of the organisation. Working with disabled children and their parents and carers is a demanding role that requires motivation and kindness, but also sound and appropriate knowledge. Therefore, Flamingo Chicks prides itself on a high-quality training programme, including free development opportunities such as learning to Makaton sign.

The charity actively recruits first-time volunteers as a positive first experience can often turn into a lifetime of volunteering. There’s support to help socially isolated volunteers take part too, as well as those with disabilities themselves.  This not only empowers those individuals but also offers great role models to younger children and their families wondering what the future might hold.

Innovating quickly to continue supporting families during the Covid-19 lockdown, the group developed a series of unique virtual classes fusing active learning with dance. Whilst there is an overwhelming amount of online content out there, there is very little that’s accessible to disabled children. Fully adapted and Makaton signed, the Flamingo Chicks classes, which include spin-off science experiments and art activities, are being viewed all over the world and this week, clocked up a staggering 100,000 views. In addition, newly created storytime videos tell tales with dance and inclusion at their heart, written by volunteers and read by celebrity supporters including TV presenter Ben Shepherd and actress Julie Hesmondhalgh.

Representatives from Flamingo Chicks will receive the award from Peaches Golding OBE, Lord Lieutenant for the City and County of Bristol later this summer. Furthermore, two volunteers from the charity will attend a garden party at Buckingham Palace in May 2021, along with other recipients of this year’s Award.