My Bristol: Katie Sparks MBE, founder and CEO of children’s charity Flamingo Chicks

I was born in Bristol then lived in Cardiff and London as well as being lucky enough to work in several different countries. Despite my exciting adventures elsewhere, Bristol definitely has my heart!

I still can’t quite believe I’ve been recognised in the Queen’s New Year Honours List! It’s wonderful news and I’m so delighted that the work of Flamingo Chicks has been acknowledged. We have had 20,000 children dance with us since we began, meaning disabled children across the UK are being given the chance to explore movement, have fun and forge friendships. Therefore, the MBE feels very much a team achievement and a lovely way to recognise that collective contribution. For our family, it’s extra special. Both my parents were diagnosed with advanced cancer in May (within two weeks of each other!), so after a truly challenging year, it couldn’t have come at a better time to give them a boost.

Flamingo Chicks delivers inclusive programmes designed to support disabled children and their families through five core pillars: inclusive dance classes, peer-to-peer support networking, intergenerational volunteering, youth-led advocacy and global outreach. Together these pillars deliver much-needed support for our children and their families and create systemic change towards a fairer, more inclusive society.

I started Flamingo Chicks because I was frustrated at the lack of inclusive opportunities for my daughter, who has cerebral palsy. I wanted to create a safe space that was also inspiring, joyous and creative that would support parents and children alike. Initially, I thought it would be a small community group but the first session I put on had 15 spaces and 200 families applied. There’s a huge need and Covid-19 has only increased that – we are growing rapidly with the number of classes we’ve delivered up by 48% in the last year.

A particular highlight was when we took seven of our Flamingo Chick Youth Advocates out to New York. They made a speech at the United Nations on human rights for disabled children, pioneering their vision for an inclusive society. This has a monumental impact and was a moment they treasure.

We are planning exciting things for 2022, a step change in how we work to reach even more children. First up, we’ll be launching a new dramatic performance production called MEN-TOUR. Two of our talented teachers will create and tour a unique workshop for disabled children to participate in breaking down gender barriers, with the male dancers providing relatable role models for disabled dancers of any age. We will also be working towards launching a new performance arm of Flamingo Chicks. The genre of ballet offers a real richness in storytelling, characterisation, music, costume and props and we will explore this in more detail.

Bristolian Actor Joe Sims (also a Flamingo Chicks’ Patron) definitely deserves a shoutout. He gives away £500 a week to a worthy cause from money he collects from his friends. He signed up 500 people to each pay a pound a week, and then they get to nominate a worthy cause to give the money to ( The amazing thing is, his scheme has grown so much, there are now lots of inspired schemes including THE BRISTOL 500, which I am now part of. It’s like a ‘community generosity pot’ helping local people in need.

I’m currently reading Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan, who is a wonderful autistic author and journalist – her book is intelligent, funny and written with such heart. Naoise also speaks beautifully about autism in Pandora Sykes’ podcast Doing it Right – the episode is called ‘Understanding Autism’.

My philosophy in life is be the change you want to see in the world. I love the Starfish Story: one step towards changing the world. We all have the opportunity to help create positive change and whilst you might not be able to change the entire world, you can change a small part of it, for someone. And to that one person, it can make a world of difference.