Partner profile: Ascendance

Ascendance is a Leeds-based charity working in the Dance for Health sector, combining professional work with a community dance company, weekly classes and outreach projects. Ascendance’s mission is to provide exercise, creative and performance opportunities for individuals with neurodisabilities and those over 55, improving physical and mental wellbeing, coordination, balance and social cohesion. Ascendance is committed to supporting the digital inclusion of participants. The organisation is a member of the Arts and Culture Digital Inclusion Network and has worked with 100% Digital Leeds to embed digital inclusion throughout their service. Most recently Ascendance has been awarded £195,992 from The National Lottery Community Fund for a new digital inclusion programme, ‘No One Left Behind’.

“The class is my only contact with others living with Parkinson’s. That’s a really important part of my coping mechanism.”


Hybrid programming to support arts participation and combat social isolation

Ascendance’s interest in digital work was sparked during the pandemic with the desire to combat the isolation that many of its participants faced through staying at home.

In 2021, the organisation launched a series of hybrid creative classes and performances with their Parkinson’s groups which attracted people from across Yorkshire. The programme supported members who were unable to join face-to-face sessions to use Zoom to engage with the programme online. 70% of participants were supported to engage with the programme and, at the peak of the pandemic, the number of workshops was increased from one session per week to five.

The performance of Part 1: “Into the Sea”, included the first ever hybrid set up at Leeds City Museum as part of World Disability Day. Parts of this project led them to create “HYBRID – The Film”, a documentary by Flygirl Films capturing creative journeys in people’s homes.

HYBRID the film

Even after the lifting of lockdown and the return to face-to-face programming, Ascendance has continued to offer remote programming, recognising that people can find their digital offer more accessible than their ‘in person’ workshops for a number of reasons. Ascendance currently offers a weekly Zoom dance session which is free to join, and is attended by regulars as well as those who generally attend sessions face-to-face but aren’t able to that week because of their health or any other change of circumstance. Their online neuro dance sessions help people with Parkinson’s, MS and other neurological conditions stay active for longer, delay progression of symptoms, develop new neuropathways
from the mind to the body and help improve balance, coordination and flexibility.

Supporting digital inclusion for care homes

Ascendance has contributed digital content to a number of initiatives using digital methods to reach care home residents who could not otherwise participate in creative dance activity, and supporting digital inclusion. The organisation has run online sessions for Leeds Care Delivery Service as part of the service’s ‘Wellbeing Wednesdays’ programme.

In to the Garden video

Ascendance contributed a digital resource to Creative Ageing Treasury of Leeds – a free activity book created by Leeds Arts Health and Wellbeing Network and partners, full of creative things to do by and with older people. It contains 15 step-by-step arts activities contributed by artists and organisations who deliver outstanding work for, by and with older people.

Ascendance ran an online workshop as part of the city’s Arts in Care Homes 2023 programme, a week-long programme of free creative workshops aimed at care home residents in celebration of The National Day of Arts in Care Homes, a national event that takes place each year. 14 arts organisations hosted a total of 24 workshops over the course of five days with the aim of highlighting the ways that care settings can utilise digital to engage with the city’s arts sector and increase arts participation for care residents.

“It was good to be involved in a wider event which enabled us to market our provision and see who else are working in the sector. We would like to extend our zoom provision in the future and this gives us confidence that there is a demand to keep moving forward with our digital at home programme. Joined up working means that we can involve more people in our online work, and have more impact regionally and nationally.”

No One Left Behind programme

Ascendance has recently been celebrating after being awarded £195,992 over 3 years in funding from The National Lottery Community Fund to build on existing digital programmes and innovate further within the dance and digital arena. Their project, ‘No One Left Behind’ aims to engage more people with neurodisabilities (such as Parkinson’s and MS), across a variety of settings, and address the growing digital divide the older community is facing, especially in areas with little or no in-person provision.

‘No One Left Behind’ will see a series of existing and new initiatives including zoom classes, digital training for the older community, outreach programmes and a digital dance, arts, and wellbeing festival.

The project aims to engage and benefit more people with neurodisabilities to:

  • participate in physical and creative dance activity that will support physical and mental wellbeing and help to delay the progression of their disease.
  • learn how to effectively and safely navigate digital spaces, so that they may access more online.
  • give opportunities to positively showcase their abilities and talents to a wider public audience.

“The energy and personality of Ascendance comes from the profiles of its heroes, Rachel and Emma, who make it possible for us Parkinson’s patients to navigate issues of social isolation through contemporary dance.”

Shafik, Participant