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Founder of Bromley inclusive dance school gets New Year honour from Queen

10:32 04 January 2017

Avril Hitman

Avril Hitman

Archant

Magpie Dance has grown from a weekly class to a renowned company

A Bromley woman who set up a dance company for people with learning disabilities has received a British Empire Medal in the New Year’s honours list in recognition of her work.

Avril Hitman, 63, began Magpie Dance in 1985 with a single, once-a-week session, which has since grown into a company that is renowned for its work in the UK and around the world.

Based at the Churchill Theatre, Magpie now provides more than 350 sessions a year for over 300 people aged eight and upwards.

Mrs Hitman, who lives in Chislehurst, said: “I am absolutely thrilled and honoured to be given the recognition for 30 years of work”.

“When I set up Magpie, I did not have a dance company in mind. It was just 45 minutes a week.

“It has grown a lot over time, with a lot of hard work and support from our fantastic team who work with me.

“The original idea was about working with people with learning disabilities and giving people more opportunities, and developing skills, confidence and communication.

“Everyone is very committed to making sure that Magpie is a success and benefits people.”

Mrs Hitman said the nature of dance as a non-verbal medium makes it a particularly inclusive activity.

“Dance is very inclusive. It is about communicating through ideas and the body, so it is a great leveller. It does not require speaking,” she explained.

“The participants perform on main stages and are fantastic advocates for people with learning disabilities.”

The company’s success has been achieved without regular investment, and it now has three full-time employees, with around 20 working in part-time positions as musicians and facilitators.

“We rely on charities and trustees,” Mrs Hitman said. “I hope the award will highlight the work of Magpie and attract investment so the company can continue for another 30 years.”

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