New Year Honours: Incredible mother in ‘joy and disbelief’ over MBE for inspiring disabled children to dance

Katie Sparkes started by offering classes to just 15 children at a pre-school eight years ago
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A mother says she felt ‘both joy and disbelief’ after being awarded an MBE for her work breaking down barriers for disabled children wanting to dance.

Katie Sparkes, from Westbury Park, was one of 11 people in the area to be included in the Queen’s New Year Honours list, featuring for her services to disabled children and their families.

Inspired by her daughter, Mrs Sparkes founded Flamingo Chicks in December 2013, offering dance classes to disabled and ill children, working to break down the barriers to participation.

She got the news of her MBE a month ago when a letter came in the post.

She told BristolWorld: “I felt both joy and disbelief. It was difficult keeping it a secret. I didn’t tell anybody until it was announced.”

Flamingo Chicks breaks down barriers for disabled children wanting to get into danceFlamingo Chicks breaks down barriers for disabled children wanting to get into dance
Flamingo Chicks breaks down barriers for disabled children wanting to get into dance

Ms Sparkes has seen first-hand how inaccessible children’s activities were, having a daughter called Poppy with cerebral palsy who wanted to do ballet.

Frustrated at the lack of opportunities for disabled children to participate, she took matters into her own hands and Flamingo Chicks was born at Noah’s Ark pre-school in Bishopston.

She said: “I found a local teacher, hired a pre-school and adapted equipment.”

A post was shared on Facebook for 15 places - 200 families applied.

Fast forward eight years, and the charity is flying with 20,000 children to have benefited, and initiatives in eight other countries.

The dance classes involve sensory equipment, storytelling and active learning. They take place across several places, including special schools, children’s hospices and community groups.

Katies Sparkes with her daughter Poppy, who inspired her to start Flamingo ChicksKaties Sparkes with her daughter Poppy, who inspired her to start Flamingo Chicks
Katies Sparkes with her daughter Poppy, who inspired her to start Flamingo Chicks

Whilst working with Flamingo Chicks, Ms Sparkes has also funded two other projects for children with disabilities and their families: Styleability which provides accessible fashion and the Sensory Science programme at STEM charity Lightyear Foundation.

She has also delivered hundreds of community-led projects including maternal health schemes in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and empowering women in developing countries to start their own business with re-gifted bras through Bra Bank.

She has also funded the building of a school in Kenya using the power of social media, and she re-gifts suits to homeless and disadvantaged jobseekers through Suit Amnesty.

And she has won several awards, including the JCI Outstanding Young Person of The World Award and Point of Light from the Prime Minister.

Ms Sparkes hopes her MBE will give Flamingo Chicks a winder platform and will carry on her work in the New Year.

She said: “I will continue to be driven by the vision of a fair future for disabled children and passion for breaking down barriers to inclusion.”

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