15 March 2022

Charlie Blair turned her experience of working as a carer into a hip-hop dance business aimed at combatting loneliness that saw her  be named in the NatWest WISE 100, an annual event which recognises the most inspiring and influential women in social enterprise, impact investment and mission driven business.

Charlie graduated from the University of East London's Dance: Urban Practice course in 2017 and soon after set up The Blair Academy, an enterprise aimed at helping elderly adults who face isolation and loneliness through hip hop dance sessions.

The idea for The Blair Academy was inspired while Charlie was caring for her terminally ill grandmother. As part of her grandmother's treatment plan, the 67-was given an exercise programme - which she refused to follow. Charlie took matters into her own hands. She adapted the programme, using hip-hop moves from her course, and trialled it with her grandmother.

"She absolutely loved it," said Charlie. "She was raving about it and totally understood why people love hip-hop. She encouraged me to call some local care homes to see if they would be interested in me using the programme with residents. Luckily, a couple of care homes responded positively - and that's how it all started."

In 2019, Charlie won UEL's prestigious E-Factor entrepreneur competition, scooping £6,000 to help get The Blair Academy up and running. Now, four years later, The Blair Academy employs 10 people - mostly drawn from the School of Arts and Creative Industries' Dance: Urban Practice course - and runs 32 in-person hip-hop classes a week at care and residential homes across London and Essex.

To reach a wider audience, Charlie has introduced a subscription service where care and residential homes across the UK can sign up to receive a monthly DVD of new hip-hop workouts. Alongside this, she has recently launched the BA Box, an online on demand platform offering 24/7 access to hip-hop dance classes, exercise sessions, and live performances.

She credits her University course tutors for giving her the skills and tools required to succeed in business.

"They gave us the opportunity to try everything," she said. "We got to audition for high-end music videos and shows; we taught in colleges; we put on our own festival; we saw every aspect of the industry so you could really make up your mind about what you wanted to do - and what you didn't want to do!

"UEL was instrumental in helping me to carve out a path and to understand what I wanted to do, why I wanted to do it and how I would get there."

She added: “I graduated in 2017, five years ago, and my lecturers are still so supportive. They keep in touch and are always looking to find new opportunities for me. They no longer have to be on this journey with me, but it's wonderful that they still are.”

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