The Big Win

Yesterday ITV presenter Michael Sibbert revealed that Turned On Its Head had won one of three grants in a competition run by The Big Lottery.

In a room filled with Sponge and babies, toddlers and their parents (my own mum) Michael walked in and pulled open the big golden envelope to show us that the public had voted for our Sponge Play project.IMG_0164

The Peoples Project is a partnership between the Big Lottery Fund, ITV, STV and The National Lottery that gives the public a say in awarding National Lottery funding to local projects across the UK. Since 2005, around £36 million has been awarded through this partnership to 770 Good Causes across the UK.

£3 million of National Lottery funding was up for grabs for community groups and organisations and 95 organisations were shortlisted across the UK from the hundreds who applied. The public had to vote for the projects they would like to receive funding.


But what does this money actually mean?

We’ve been working with families for years, taking our shows, workshops and training out on the road. Working in partnership with venues and organisations we pop up all over the place with a team of dancers, lots of sponges and armed with the desire to play, dance and have a creative adventure with families and their young children. Our greatest pleasure is to see families creating, connecting and communicating. And having fun – fun and laughter is our best and most important ingredient. A great thing happens to families when they play together: They begin to talk and laugh. Family memories are built and moments of intimacy are communicated. We’re also doing loads of exercise… that doesn’t feel like exercise because we’re having so much fun.IMG_0191

“But it all sounds a bit like just playing?” said  Ben Jackson of Radio Leicester when he interviewd us during the campaign to raise awareness of the voting.

Yes, but it ‘s also so much more than that.

As dancers we believe that the non-verbal form the work takes has something unique to offer every family, whether your child is non verbal or pre-verbal. Dance is central to our being human, we have always danced since the beginning of time, just as we have always drawn, made music and told stories. But working creatively is a great leveler, as is using props that create curiosity. Did you know that when curiosity is activated anxiety cannot be? Our brains are wired to be curious. That how the sponges work their magic – no one has ever been in a room, with thousand of sponges before and two crazy ladies who tips, swirl and squash.


As dancers we also believe in the power of improvisation to ‘tune into’ children’s play and to create a world of wonderment and awe that engages children and adults and inspires them to keep playing. Tuning into children has a wonderful effect on them, it develops self worth, a sense of belonging and a sense of power – all aspects of developing self-esteem. And this is one of the things we want to capture on film with the funding from this project – we want parents to understand more about the wonderful, creative, unique individual that is their child. As dancers we believe we can ‘set the pace’ and model what child-led play can look like. We create an invitation through our own dances for people to join with us.. and they do, the sponges drawing them in to jumping, rolling, building together.

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And as dancers we that we have lots of ways to be intelligent and, in a world that elevates academic learning, we have a place in helping families celebrate their child through what the body does, that doesn’t rely on writing, numbers. We celebrate what the body is, what the body does and the relationships we form through it. Our sponge play workshops will go to Rainbows, where children may have very limited movements, complicated health issues and we use dance to help them to connect to their child’s smallest movements, tiniest responses.

Shiny Rainbows 2

As dancers, we know that moving activates the brain, and this grant will help us create films explaining this amazing phenomenon. Neuroscience is a very difficult concept to grasp. I’ve been trying to read and understand it for three years. But I think that using the language of dance (as well as other creative medium like film and animation) we have a good shot at presenting difficult concepts in a way that help families apply these concepts to playing with their children.

The children win from this project, as do the families.

And it’s a big win for us too, for big ideas. If you were someone who voted then I wholeheartedly thank you for making this project possible. The fact that the people voted this project into existence is the second greatest thing about the result – the first of course being able to actually go out there and meet and dance with hundreds of families.