Article by: Charlotte Foxley
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I knew one day I wanted to run my own business. I am married with two gorgeous boys. My eldest has a rare genetic disorder, STXBP1. He has a significant learning disability coupled with Autism and attends a special needs school. My name is Charlotte and I own and run diddi dance North Essex & South Suffolk. Funky pre-school dance for boys & girls aged from 18mths to 4.5 years and I run classes for children aged up to 14 with additional needs or disabilities. I love what I do and don’t stop too often! I live in the countryside in Essex with my family and near my parents and brother and his family. I enjoy time with my family most of all and sitting down to a good film.
I offer fully inclusive dance classes for boys & girls and I have used my own personal experience and skills learnt to be able to adapt our sessions for my special needs classes. I was determined when I joined diddi dance 3 years ago that I wanted to open classes for special needs children. I wanted the focus to be totally on what the children need, for the parents to be relaxed and not stressed out at the worry of what might happen in a class situation. I wanted to be totally flexible in our approach, have a lesson plan as the children do like routine and familiarity but use it very loosely and lead the class in a responsive way. I adapt the sessions myself but still use all our diddi dance music, simple routines, exercises and props to bring out the best in the children who attend. I offer alternative options for different moves so that the children can do as much as they feel able. We take our time, we repeat and we don’t rush. Some classes are very sensory based, and we use many props, others we can learn a simple routine. We always finish with cool down time and bubbles then we take a diddi dance bow! Most of all we just go with the flow, I want the children to be themselves and for the parents to be as relaxed as they can. I have just completed my Para Inclusive Dance Instructor training, so I am now including this within my SEND sessions even more. I work with the children and listen to the parents as to how their child feels and communicates.
Because of my situation I needed a job that could work around family life but also provide the freedom to make something for myself. After looking at franchise options available and thinking about what I would like to do, I came across diddi dance while also looking for an activity to try with my youngest son, then age 2. This business looked fantastic and I wasn’t wrong. It doesn’t feel like work! I really didn’t realise just how much fun it would be from the dancing to the serious business side. I love people and I get to work with all ages from the little toddlers in class right up to grandparents who come along to watch their grandchildren. It is hard work, but it fits with my life. I can keep the business going while looking after my family at home and it is up to me if I want to work every evening to achieve my goals and do well.
My son with additional needs is my inspiration with regard to wanting to open diddi dance for special needs children, making dance more accessible to all children, especially those with disabilities, since I have experienced first-hand how difficult it is to find things for disabled children to do that also allows siblings to come along too.
Since starting my business, I have received accreditations through the Exercise Movement Dance Partnership and the Silver level with Children’s Activity Association – demonstrating that I have all my policies, health & safety and procedures in place offering a safe environment for parents to bring their children along to. At my first diddi dance annual conference in 2016 I was awarded the “diddi Debutante” award, which recognises the fastest growing franchisee who launched within the previous year. The award is based on overall growth within the business from territory usage, brand awareness and turnover – and I proved in all categories that I was the one setting the bar that everyone was trying to reach. At last year’s conference my teacher was awarded the diddi Dancer award, for most ‘en pointe’ teaching of the classes based on my training. For the last two years I have won the “diddi Driver” award, for the most motivated and driven franchisee driving and progressing their business.
Being nominated and winning the “Mum and working” award for Franchisee of the Year 2018 is a highlight so far. I was surprised and proud for myself and what it meant to my family and the children who I work with. I was also a finalist in the New Woman franchisee category at the EWIF Awards which was an honour and I was very proud to be a finalist in this category.
Over the last 12 months I have been building up my provision of SEND classes working with Essex County Council and the Shortbreaks scheme who part fund the classes. I am proud to say that I am now an official provider for them and look forward the year ahead!