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Safeguarding Online Practices: Indepen-dance

Around the world, lockdown measures to confront the Covid-19 pandemic have resulted in organisations moving their activities online.

Delivering work using digital tools, livestreaming events, and providing online workshops all require additional consideration for best practice, processes and policies, especially in relation to child protection and working with vulnerable adults.

Part three of our series on safeguarding online practices focuses on Indepen-dance.

Indepen-dance is an award winning inclusive dance company for disabled and non-disabled people to enjoy, express, and fulfil their potential through dance.

Karen Anderson, Artistic Director, tells us more about their approach to working virtually, and safeguarding online activity.

A group of dancers stand posing on a stage flooded in blue and pink light in front of an audience - they look thrilled and delighted and most have their hands up in the air

Tell us about your virtual project activity with participants

We responded immediately to this crisis by sending a live message via our social media channels to all our members explaining that our service as they knew it was closed and we would try our best to do what we could to get our service online. We also made phone calls to all our members before closing the office on the 19th March.

We used the following day to record a series of dance films to use on on Youtube Channel these were short instruction dance video's - made in my flat with a couple of our creative team with limited resources, I didn't have the tech savvy to turn the camera onto landscape so as a result they aren't great quality but we have released one each week to our members and the wider public via our Youtube channel.

Since the 25th Mar we moved our dance sessions online using the platform Zoom, the very first session had to be aborted due to a "zoom bombing" incident, we reported this to the authorities and sought to make our online sessions more secure to prevent this from happening again.

We now have 8 weekly inclusive dance sessions, we added more each week as the demand grew we have a variety of inclusive dance classes for disabled children, young people and adults many of them have their families joining in too. We have a session specifically for people with complex and profound learning disabilities and have introduced seated/chair yoga followed by a cuppa and a catch up.A group of dancers stand in a circle in a light and airy rehearsal room

We have ran one live dance event called #Proudmary which had over 150 people participating from around the world. We used Youtube and Facebook as the social media platforms, we used this event  as a way to raise awareness of our organisation but at the same time celebrate the hard work and dedication of NHS staff and Keyworkers.

We have set up WhatsApp groups for our youth dance company and are in the process of setting one up for our adult performance company. We have set up WhatsApp groups for our PAYE furloughed staff, another one which has both freelance and PAYE staff in it and have weekly wellbeing catch up calls with our staff who are furloughed using Zoom.

We have had regular contact with our board who met fortnightly originally and now are meeting monthly to ensure we have their support.

We created a contact spreadsheet and have contacted every single person who attends our classes via phone. This enabled us to pass information on about the service we were providing online, we also offered families regular wellbeing calls if they so wished.

What have you put in place to ensure online safeguarding for those you are working with?

We have created a film which gives clear step by step instructions to follow before taking part in our class, we used YDance's film as a basis to make our own, we also wrote an easy read version for our learning disabled members both are available on our website and we are happy for these to be shared. Gail Sneddon from Dance North has set up a working group to look at safeguarding and we are part of this group to feed in our knowledge and experiences.

As previously mentioned we made our online Zoom sessions more secure by changing the codes for each session and adding passwords. The important message is not to share the Zoom codes publicly. We also take a registered of who wants to attend the sessions, therefore we can control who we let into the sessions, as we have created a virtual waiting room.

What have the challenges been and what have you learnt?

Asides the challenges already mentioned, we are still trying to work out how to make the sound quality better for the Zoom dance sessions.

What is working well about working online? Are there any surprising benefits?

For our members (majority of people with a learning disability) the Zoom sessions have worked incredibly well - it's to do with the human contact in the virtual sense and the human interaction. This compared to people watching something online makes a huge difference, the people we deliver our service for are often already isolated in their community so we know how important the human interaction has been by the response we are getting and the feedback.

We have created polls for people to complete at the end of the Zoom sessions and will be gathering this feedback to collate it and create a report that gathers all this feedback in one place.

A group of people in the midst of a dance - one of them is leading the rehearsal wearing a staff t-shirt

How are participants benefiting from taking part in arts activity at this difficult time?

We have had really good feedback from our participants saying how much they enjoy the online sessions. We get feedback from parents and carers telling us how important the weekly online programme is to their son/daughter as they have little or nothing else to join that is suited to their needs.

What tips would you give to other creatives moving to working with participants online?

Do it! Move your work online, connect with your members/participants. It makes a world of difference to the wellbeing of the individuals taking part.

Find out more about the work of Indepen-dance on their website

This article was published on 27 Aug 2020