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Animated Edition - Autumn 2005
The art of regeneration
East London Dance has been a natural-born regeneration agency intent on changing the creative, social and economic environment for almost 20 years. Kiki Gale and Anthony Peppiatt look at how dance can authentically build capacity, meeting creative, social and economic needs and produce a powerful package of positive Olympic experiences for young East Londoners
Regenerating Dance
East London Dance (ELD) has been a natural-born regeneration agency intent on changing the creative, social and economic environment since the day we started working in East London almost twenty years ago. It is probably a truth universally to be acknowledged, and yet to be sufficiently celebrated, that this is the case for the history of most community dance practice in Britain.

We think it is the defining reason for why dance is at the heart of regeneration in the Thames Gateway region in East and South East London. We have always been (in today's terms) developing social inclusion and building capacity, making dance matter so that alongside the expansion of dance experience and creativity it generates a brace of other benefits - such as new, accessible routes to healthier lifestyles and personal & social skills' development for our participants, and the creation of micro-jobs, professional skills' training, resource support and business development for artists.

The aim here is to describe the role of dance at the heart of regeneration in East and South East London. We want to illustrate the way that we and our partners aim to drive regeneration further through the exceptional capabilities of dance and to share this with the whole dance community as a significant way for dance to occupy a key cultural place in the regeneration of our communities.

Regenerating Communities
East and South East London represents one of the richest culturally diverse regions in the UK made up of 200 cultural and language communities. It is home to one of the largest clusters of artists and creative businesses in Europe. The region is characterized by high factors of deprivation and social exclusion alongside areas of affluence. A rather grim snapshot of the region was taken by Sir Michael Marmot, Director of International Health & Society at University College London, who said: 'If you take the Central line from the Centre to the East of London, for every stop there is a drop in life expectancy of a year. (1)

Against this, we can pitch the tremendous potential of such a culturally rich region with another snapshot, that of Sebastian Coe's journey to Singapore with a talented group of 30 young people from East London for the final presentation of the 2012 London Olympic bid. (2)

The Thames Gateway is one of Europe's largest urban regeneration areas, and stretches from Tower Bridge to Southend and the Medway towns. To provide just a taste of the scale of the development proposals, it is a plan for a city the size of Leeds to arrive over the next 20 years, adding 90,000 new homes, 19 primary care centres, six police stations, 55 primary schools, ten secondary schools, 3,800 new medical staff, involving significant job creation and much more. Within this proposal are equally ambitious cultural aspirations in which dance is an active player through the involvement of East London Dance. London's successful 2012 Olympic bid brings a raft of further opportunities for the five Olympic boroughs, in which ELD is centrally located. The challenges in all of this for dance are, firstly, to turn competition for inclusion into partnerships with our cultural providers and, secondly, to demonstrate the exceptional values and benefits of dance to our regeneration stakeholders. Everyone involved also faces the challenge of sustaining whatever we achieve, certainly beyond the 2012 Olympics, so that the developments are of lasting benefit to our communities.

Regenerating Challenges
In 2004, we analysed the existing and new opportunities for growth, in what is always experienced as a volatile context of changing cultural and funding priorities. The regeneration sector in our own region was evidently a new way forward. Other regions, such as the North East, through the work of Dance City National Dance Agency and its partners, had developed a strong track record of successful engagement with the regeneration sector. We identified that dance in our region had a low visibility with the regeneration sector and operated on a relatively small scale that might inhibit its scope and delivery in the regeneration context. Against this, the dance strengths of our region are considerable - a long-term practice, innovation in creative and community provision, an abundance of artists, involved boroughs, and four sub-regional dance agencies and centres.

We decided to tackle these challenges by establishing the Thames Gateway Dance Partnership made up of the 11 East and South East London boroughs together with Chisenhale Dance Space, Greenwich Dance Agency, Laban and East London Dance. The lack of explicit partnerships of this scale, at least in our region, gave this a slightly risky aspect. But the potential value of it was recognised by everyone and it received an overwhelmingly positive response, so that we were able to launch the Partnership in 2005. We believed that some expert help was called for and proposed that our first project would be to commission research into the best ways that we could engage effectively with the regeneration sector, producing an action plan for 2006-2012. To pay for this, Arts Council England and most of the 11 boroughs followed through their interest by providing the required finances. Alan Dix 509 Arts is undertaking this and will complete the research in January 2006, when we plan to share and debate the results, with our community groups and artists, the regeneration sector and the wider national dance sector.

During this time, we will also be participating in developing the cultural programme of the 2012 Olympics. The focus of the cultural programme is on young people. This is a central strand of East London Dance's work, in which over many years we have developed ways to involve young East Londoners, inclusive of the young disabled, to break down barriers to their participation in dance. Our strategy has been to work in the boroughs and to create projects in "vernacular" contexts: a road, a shopping centre, a canvas dome in a park, a library, a railway station, as well as schools and community centres. We have engaged truly gifted artists to achieve this, such as Wayne McGregor, Rosemary Lee, Lea Anderson, Kwesi Johnson, Bonnie Oddie, Vicki Igbokwe, Chix Chandaria and Robert Hylton amongst many others. We devised an open access route to dance for young East Londoners and for some this has led to a place in our recently formed flagship Youth Company, already winning prizes, and about to expand two-fold. In the last two years, we have extended our youth programme to involve young offenders, refugees and the young homeless, adding value to their participation by providing accredited training towards their further training and employment prospects.

We have already begun to pursue the Olympic opportunities for young East Londoners. A year ago we were invited to participate in an Olympic focused education programme in support of London's bid, initiated by the London Borough of Newham. The outcome was Start to Finish, a magical film created by Luca Silverstrini and Bettina Strickler from Protein Dance and film maker Roswitha Cheshire with 160 young people from across Newham. Inspired entirely by the ideals of the Olympics Movement - the celebration of the mind, body and spirit - the film captures the identity of young East Londoners and their creative responses to Olympic sports through dance.

This long-term experience of developing youth work in East London has enabled us to demonstrate to the Olympic stakeholders and the broader regeneration sector that dance is a competitive player within their cultural programmes.

Dance in our hands has always been geared up to build capacity, meeting creative, social and economic needs. We have established a powerful package of positive experiences for young East Londoners through dance. This includes accessible routes to creative experiences, skills' training, personal & social growth, healthier lifestyles, and accredited training towards further training and employment. The seven-year build-up to the Olympics is a huge opportunity for us to maximise the ways that we know dance can uniquely enrich the lives and future prospects of young East Londoners.

Kiki Gale, Artistic Director, East London Dance. Contact: 020 8279 1050 or email:
Anthony Peppiatt, Development Director, East London Dance. Email:

1. Marmot, M. Sir: University College London quoted in The Guardian (G2): The New Work-death Cash Balance: Catherine Bennett 14 October 2004
2. Coe, S. Lord: Part of the Candidate City Submission London 2012 Candidate City to the International Olympic Committee, Singapore: 6 July 2005. Visit

The following documents have been used as reference
1. Thames Gateway London Partnership: Practitioner forum (Debra Reay)
2. 'Transforming the Landscape' researched and written by DPA (David Powell Associates)
3. London Thames Gateway: Development and Investment Framework - The Mayor of London, London Development Partnership and the Thames Gateway London Partnership

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Animated: Autumn 2005