fbpx IWD spotlight: Leanne Pero, The Movement Factory - London Youth

09 March 2022

To mark International Women’s Day 2022, we sat down with Leanne Pero, Founder and Director of The Movement Factory. 

Trigger Warning // Child sexual abuse and suicide

Take us back 10 years, what was it like for you and your organisation then? What were your hopes and dreams? 

10 years ago, we had just rebranded and I just done finished shooting a documentary with the founder of Pineapple Dance Studios, Debbie Moore. It was new territory. There was a lot of uncertainty and very much still feeling the residue of the recession and the low funding levels. I was at a crossroads. 

What reignited my flame was London 2012. I got asked by Coca Cola to be one of the torch runners because of the work of Movement Factory, based on our impact through dance in the previous 10 years. It was always about survival, that was my vision. I saw so many lose their programmes and saw youth centres around Southwark disappear. Having worked so hard to establish The Movement Factory. And believed what we had was really special. So I wasn’t prepared to not fight for its sustainability. 

What motivated you to set up The Movement Factory then work with London Youth, what were the problems or challenges you wanted to address by working with us? 

I was a child sexual abuse victim and tried to take my life on two occasions. Dance was what kept me alive, and being offered my own dance class at 15, it was about getting young women off the street and creating a family unit and a safe space for other girls to express themselves. It was about me passing on what had saved me. And hoping I could save other girls who were experiencing trauma and disconnect. 

20 years on, even though we have grown its still the same ethos about a place, a home for young people to find and discover themselves and get the support they need for them at the time they need it. 

What are the three most important things you’ve learned whilst working with young people (particularly young women) in the sport & physical activity sector in the last decade?

Often a lot of young women get overlooked. A lot of attention paid to those with confidence and talent. But what about those young women who haven’t reached that level yet or need the support to develop those skills? I hone in on these young women and look for the hidden talent and invest in them! 

Leanne Pero doing the break the bias pose for international women's day

Young women’s mental health and their perceptions about themselves, particularly body image, I have never seen it in such a negative place. We’ve adapted our delivery to meet this and now have a dance lead, but also a youth work lead to meet the complexities and broad range of emotional support young women require right there and then. We don’t want to miss that opportunity to help. Dance is enabling the young women to open up, so a really powerful youth work tool for us. 

Young women are a lot more proactive, like me creating a business at 15, young women are entrepreneurs using social media to establish themselves. Very head strong, they know what they want and what experience they’re looking for. My role is to not limit those ambitions, but to ensure they remain grounded, help them establish strong networks of support and blend hard work/consistency against the instant validation that Tik Tok can provide. I want young women in the dance space to be sustainable and have a healthy relationship with social media. As Movement Factory, we’ll be there for them throughout. 

What are your ambitions for the future for you, girls and young women? How does youth work and sport help this?

I want to sustain The Movement Factory to be here in 20 years’ time and build on partnerships like we have with London Youth and Nike to ensure young women can keep attaining and breaking through. 

I want to see a growth of safe spaces for young women to deal with society pressures. More work being done around young women exploring themselves and focusing within, on their inner self. Moving out of home at 13, it was my female youth worker who was key for me, back then, recommending me books, advising me on training courses and ensuring I had a sense of home and belonging to better myself. As women, we must invest in ourselves, in our character. Not in the physical look or in the shoes we wear. I’ve learnt firsthand that life is hard, it always throws things at you. But what enables us to deal with it is by investing in our character 

We deliver dance inclusively and remove the embarrassment that many people often feel. Key transferable skills, interaction with others and a celebration of culture and diversity. Dance = enjoyment, learning and performing, a sense of achievement and motivation plus understanding and seeing hard work lead to goals being achieved. Self-confidence, as well the physical buzz it produces. It’s an all-rounder.

We often focus on the first timer, the new young women coming through the doors. That’s taking a big leap of faith, so we need to ensure we support that and feed that curiosity.

Final reflection – what would you say to your 10-year younger self based on your experiences from the past decade knowing what you know now? What is your call to action for young girls and women in London today?

Honest to god, don’t worry, it will actually work out. I am a massive worrier, probably because of the some of the trauma I’ve experienced. In my 36 years, I’ve lived a life of things being very good, then BOOM, life just comes at me with something – for example, breast cancer and how I had to physically and mentally fight to beat that. But, actually, it does work out and I am very proud of the women I have become. 

For young women of colour, particularly young black women, I want them to feel proud of themselves and their achievements. I will continue to use dance, and my tool bank of skills to empower young black women to create a pathway to achieve their dreams and becomes leaders and decision makers now/for the future. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I am a woman of colour, and we are not the same as our white counterparts. We are all human yes, but we have completely different lived experiences. We must continue to strive for equal access of opportunities, and that people recognise us as black women! We want the same seats at the table and have our voices heard. I want recognition for difference and for this to be celebrated. I am determined to not let the Black Lives Movement momentum fade. And I will not let the persistent inequalities hamper me or young black women for the future. We are too important to allow that to happen! 

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