MPs hear how Wessex Dance Academy puts young criminals through training programme

Daily Echo: Dance school helps transform lives of young criminals Dance school helps transform lives of young criminals

MPs have been told how a Hampshire dance school is transforming the lives of young criminals.

The award-winning Wessex Dance Academy puts teenagers form across the county through a rigorous training programme culminating in a high-profile contemporary dance performance at Winchester's theatre Royal.

Young people are targeted if they have committed crimes or are deemed to be vulnerable and at risk of offending.

At the House of Commons, academy manager Clare Hobbs told the Justice Select Committee young people leaving the programme were more likely to get into education, and less likely to reoffend.

She said: “It's not what you see on Strictly Come Dancing. It requires extreme focus, and extreme stillness. It's not what they're used to. It's a very intensive programme. This is a massive deal for them. What you see happen to them over 12 weeks - these are young people who are, on the whole, not getting up in the morning...socialising late a night into the early hours.

“Their whole routine is completely at odds with ours.”

The teenagers choose not to go out “because they either ache or have class in the morning”, she said.

Ms Hobbs admitted there were disciplinary problems “all the time”, adding: “These young people are not used to the learning environment.”

Winchester MP Steve Brine, a member of the committee, which is holding an inquiry into youth justice, said the academy had achieved “great reductions” in youth offending rates.

Also giving evidence was Ian Langley, the head of Hampshire Youth Offending Team, who said participants included children taken from day release, licence and pupil referral units.

The £4,500 cost of each placement comes from the theatre and Winchester University as well as taxpayers, he said.

“We are achieving tremendous value despite the economic climate”, he added.

He predicted that reoffending rates would fall further now the academy has a permanent base after three years of holding rehearsals in village halls.

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