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In 2012, Charlie Blair was a homeless teenager in the YMCA on Forest Road. Ten years on, she was across the road, hosting a community event in Fellowship Square.
Charlie is the founder of The Blair Academy, a social enterprise centred on her experiences as a professional dancer, carer and homeless teenager.
The venture started when Charlie thought up the concept with her nan in the living room. Now, she and the team deliver Hip Hop dance workshops to older adults in care and community settings across Waltham Forest and wider, which combat loneliness, improve and prevent physical and mental health, and bridge social and generational gaps.
On Sunday 3 July, funded by the ‘Make It Happen’ grant and part of the Council’s Free Summer Starts Here programme, the Blair Academy hosted the ‘Hip Hop Tea Dance with a Twist’ in Fellowship Square. It was one of many free events being offered to residents this summer, aiming to bring the community together. You can find more free events on our events page.
The Blair Academy brought together care home residents and older adults in the community for a chair-based Hip Hop dance session.
Charlie said, “Tea dances are much loved among the older generation, and we wanted to bring our very own Hip Hop version to Fellowship Square.
“We grooved our way through banging Hip Hop, funk and reggae beats from the 1960s through to the current day. It was a chance for people to socialise with people they may not ordinarily cross paths with and learn some new dance moves.”
After the session, the participants enjoyed afternoon tea together and exchanged stories while overlooking the fountain.
Reflecting on the day, Charlie said, “As well as something exciting to look forward to, the day served as a really enjoyable experience for those who came along. Following on from the pandemic, many of the older adults we work with have been adversely affected by social isolation and inactivity, so it was amazing for us to receive funding to put on such a special event.
“A woman who was on the grass watching our workshop came over and said how ‘refreshing' it was to see the older generation getting involved with a fun, energetic dance style like Hip Hop.”
The location was also poignant for Charlie, who has used her personal experience of homelessness as a springboard to become an entrepreneur.
She explained, “It was particularly momentous for me to hold this event at Fellowship Square because I used to live in the YMCA opposite in 2012. The event also served as a moment of reflection for me, looking back on how far I’ve come as a person and entrepreneur since then. It feels incredible to have taken painful moments in my life and turned them into something with so much purpose and social value.”
The Blair Academy is offering more opportunities for residents to get involved. Starting on Saturday 6 August, the Blair Academy is launching an intergenerational social club on Beamount Estate, Leyton, to connect young residents with their elderly neighbours. This is in addition to other sessions run by the enterprise, which can be found on Blair's website.
Visit our Summer Starts Here page for more information on our free summer programme.