Tragic Leeds teacher’s legacy helping children to fulfil their dreams

Max Cookward.

Max Cookward.

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It is two years since teacher Ann Maguire was murdered. A fund set up in her memory is helping promising children achieve their dreams. Catherine Scott reports.

Max Cookward says he would never have achieved his dream of training with the world famous Rambert Ballet if it hadn’t been for the fund set up in Ann Maguire’s name.

Ann Maguire

Ann Maguire

“I needed some extra training before I applied to the Rambert,” says the talented dancer. “We applied to the Ann Maguire Arts Educational Fund to help us and we were successful. It made me realise that what I really wanted to do was to study ballet and contemporary dance. I don’t think I would have got my place if I hadn’t had the support of the Maguire family.”

‘The Ann Maguire Arts Educational Fund’ was set up in May 2014 in memory of the teacher who dedicated her life to supporting children.The fund, is managed by Leeds Community Foundation, and provides bursaries and funding for the ‘enhancement and personal development of young people under 18 years old through music, drama, language and dance’- all subjects that were close to Ann’s heart. Community arts groups have also benefited from the fund.

Mother of two Ann Maguire, 61, was murdered while teaching at Corpus Christi Catholic College in Leeds on April 28, 2014. Sixteen year old Will Cornick admitted her murder at Leeds Crown Court and was sentenced to a minimum of 20 years.Her family set up the fund in her memory as she was a keen supporter of the arts and of the development of young people. One of her daughter’s Emma is a dancer with the Royal Ballet.

Max Cookward, 16, from Chapel Allerton is one of the young people to receive up to £500 from the fund.

Max Cookward

Max Cookward

“We were all so touched by Ann Maguire’s death even though we didn’t know her,” says Max. “I just felt some connection with the family, with Emma being a ballet dancer. It meant so much to me to have their support and to think that out of such a tragedy something so positive can come and made a difference for so many people.” Max has been dancing as long as he can remember, although for years he kept it secret after being bullied at primary school.

“He moved schools because of the bullying, but he never told anyone about his dancing,” says Max’s mum Steph Ward. “From being able to walk he started to dance. He started going to drama and dance classes and then to Scala School of Performing Arts in Leeds.”

Steph says dancing was incredibly important to Max as much of her time and that of her partner Sharron Cook was taken up with his litle brother Lyall.

Lyall has Down Syndrome and has had to undergo numerous heart operations in Leeds as well has having a tracheostomy fitted to help him breathe.

“Things were quite scary at home for a while. Lyall has complex needs which meant both my partner Sharron and me had to give up our jobs to look after him for a while. We tried to make sure that Max and his older brother Dan, had everything but it was hard,” says Steph who was also a vociferous campaigner against the closure of Leeds Children’s Heart Unit where Lyall was treated. “Max had his dancing and I think it was a form of release for him. He was auditioning for Northern Ballet while Lyall was critically ill. It gave him an escape from the scary situation at home,” says Steph. “We couldn’t afford any extra classes for him and that’s where the Ann Maguire Fund came in. We cannot thank them enough for allowing him to follow his dream. ”

When he was 12 won a full scholarship to Elmhurst School of Dance in Birmingham but he struggled with being away from home.

“It was a time when Lyall really wasn’t at all well and I think that really affected Max. He just wasn’t ready to be away from home,” says Steph.Now however, Max believes he is ready.

“The Rambert School has been a dream of mine since I watched the Rambert Dance Company perform a few years ago,” says Max who currently trains with the Northern School of Contemporary Dance. He is also doing his GCSEs at Rosset School in Harrogate.

“Ever since then, my ambition was to go there but it is one of the hardest ballet/contemporary schools to get into so, I never thought it was achievable.

“I think my time in Birmingham has prepared me for what to expect, but I am older now and very exciting about the challenge and hard work that lies ahead.” It will also be a challenge for his mums, Steph and Sharron.

“I took him down to London for the audition. He is young to be away from home but I was impressed with how nurturing and caring they are. It is a great opportunity for him and is has all been driven by Max. If our experience with Lyall has taught us anything it is to make the most of everyday and take every opportunity that comes your way.” says Steph. “We were all touched by what happened to Ann Maguire, but it has been amazing that out of something so awful the family has done something so positive. I hope they are comforted with the fact that kids are achieving great things because of what they have done.”

Emma Maguire, one of Ann’s daughters said: “We are really touched to be able to make such a difference in these young people’s lives. Max is a perfect example of what the fund was set up to do, to develop the aspirations of young people through arts education and take them one step closer to their dreams. We wish him luck on this, the first step of his professional career and look forward to following such a young talent.”

For more information on the fund visit www.annmaguire.org

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