A teenage ballerina with autism from one of the toughest housing estates in Leeds will be able to take up her place at one of the UK’s most prestigious dance schools after Guardian readers and others chipped in more than £105,000 to cover her fees.
Constance Bailey, 13, received a place to study ballet at the Hammond school near Chester but her mother, Laura, a lone parent who works as a PA in the NHS, could not afford the £29,000 annual fees.
One anonymous donor pledged £1,250, but most donated £10 or £20. Many said they had autism or had family members with an autism spectrum disorder.
“One of my children is autistic and we have spent a considerable amount of time persuading him that he can be successful in life,” said one woman, who donated £10. “It can be so hard for children with autism to feel like they can succeed at school when the system is usually set up for neurotypical children. So happy to see Constance living her dreams.”
Another donor, pitching in £100, wrote: “From this autistic doctor who literally grew up on the street Billy Elliot was filmed on, best wishes – always follow your dreams. You can achieve anything you want.”
One man, giving £100, said he knew the estate where Constance grew up. He wrote: “We know Seacroft well and want to help this young lass get a foot on the road to her dream. Go for it, kid!”
Laura Bailey sent her gratitude to everyone who donated money. “I am dumbstruck but so incredibly moved by the messages. I feel so very humbled,” she said.
“Constance hasn’t stopped smiling and grinning. She keeps saying: ‘I keep thinking I’m going to wake up and it was all a dream.’ Our emotions are overflowing. This really is beyond our wildest belief. People who have donated have changed Constance’s life forever.”
The school wrote to the family to confirm Constance’s place on Monday, offering their congratulations on the fundraising effort. “Constance is very lucky to have you as her mum,” wrote the registrar and admissions coordinator.
The money will be used to fund three years’ boarding, Bailey said, plus about £1,100 a year for medical insurance and a few hundred for uniforms and trips.
She said any money left over would be used to start a fund in Leeds to help other disadvantaged children go to dance school.