Meet the Team

Helen Thackray, Director

Helen has been Director of Blaze since March 2021, leading on strategy, vision and fundraising. Helen previously worked in cultural venues across Yorkshire, Nottingham and the North West working with communities, increasing access to culture and developing innovative co-creation models. Helen is passionate about creating spaces where young people can explore their creative potential, develop their own support networks and achieve their own goals.

Meet the Freelancers

Blaze’s activity is delivered by a community of freelance creative practitioners, the majority of whom live in Lancashire. Meet some of the team who have been collaborating with young people over the past year…


Leon is a resilient rapper, songwriter, DJ and music producer. Alongside Beki Hughes, Leon leads Ursa Major Media, a creative powerhouse based in Burnley. Through their combined talents and dedication they empower individuals to express themselves through music, art and drama. Ursa Major Media inspires positive change and artistic growth in their hometown and beyond. Leon is currently working with Blaze on the Music or Lose It project, delivering workshops in community centres across Burnley.

Helena Ascough

Helena Ascough inspires to create thought provoking, inclusive and imaginative work through her lived experience of disability, community led practice and love of storytelling. Helena’s avant garde characters, spoken word, facilitation, directing and acting allows unheard voices to be heard both on and off stage. Her one woman show NO FUTURE was commissioned by EXTANT and Camden’s People Theatre in March 2023 presented as a work in progress. Most recently Helena’s children show F(able) was funded by Arts Council England, supported at Lancaster Dukes and performed at Liverpool Empire Theatre. Helena is currently producing and facilitating the Access All Areas project at Blaze with disabled young people in Lancashire.

Twitter: @Helena_Ascough

Maia Barker

Maia is a postgraduate researcher, musician and accessibility advocate who has been working with Blaze as project assistant within the Access All Areas project. She has recently graduated with a Master’s in Music Industry Management and Promotion from UCLan, focusing on researching and implementing knowledge on sensory access in live music spaces and creating a platform for disabled and neurodivergent musicians in the North West. She most recently presented her research at the Night Time Economy Summit 2024 and is an Attitude is Everything Future Leader.

Beki Hughes

Beki is a drama practitioner, fine artist, vocalist and local councillor from Burnley. Through her workshops, Beki inspires creativity and empowerment, blending performance, visual art and music to foster positive change in individuals and communities alike. Alongside MeLeon, Beki leads Ursa Major Media.

Rizwan Iqbal

Rizwan Iqbal is a cultural producer, community organiser, and visual artist with over 20 years of experience in working with grassroots communities in the North of England. Specialising in diverse art and culture, he uses an international approach to raise the aspirations and quality of art and culture across multi-disciplinary platforms, creating relevant connections to transform lives and experiences. His vision and ambition for artistic and cultural innovation have led him to collaborate with an array of artists and organisations to promote diversity and representation in the arts. Rizwan is working as a freelance producer on Blaze’s Music or Lose It project funded by Youth Music.

Meet the Creative Activators

The Creative Activators help ignite youth led creativity through consultation and partnership development. They began working with Blaze in 2023. They are currently working with Lancashire Library Service to explore how Burnley Central Library can support isolated young people and they are working with Burnley Leisure to engage young people with the upcoming Pride of Place project. If you or your organisation would like to work with the Creative Activators contact

Amber is originally from Bradford and has lived near Burnley since she was young. She is currently studying BA Hons Sociology at UCLAN after completing a youth- work based arts and culture apprenticeship. She enjoys art, music and self-expression and loves visiting museums and exhibitions in her spare time. Amber is passionate about advocating for positive mental wellbeing and the appreciation/accessibility for a wide range of neuro diversities and disabilities.

Beth is from Preston, an actor, qualified Cultural Learning and Participation Officer and most recently, a Creative Activator. She has taken part in many Blaze projects over the past few years including the youth led group ‘Harris Young Producers’. In this group she grew passionate about youth led work and saw first-hand how it can develop young people’s self-belief, aspirations and dedication. Alongside pursuing her performance career, she hopes to encourage young people to try new things and take the lead in producing creative work and futures that mean something to them.

Olivia is an actor/movement performer & Creative Activator from Burnley, Lancashire. She is delighted to be working with Blaze & is passionate about encouraging & educating others to feel seen, empowered, to express their creativity & experience as much as possible no matter your background or start in life. She hopes to offer a positive outlook to young people & plans on developing and creating her own projects in the future.


Meet the Trustees

Jasleen Kaur, Chair

Originally from Preston and currently studying Business Management at Liverpool University, Jasleen has a background in Libraries and Museums. She has worked with the Harris in Preston to deliver events for children and young people: ranging from music concerts to comic cons. Her aim is to break the stigma behind libraries and encourage more young people to use their space. Jasleen currently works with Hewlett Packard Enterprise on their campaigns and communications which enables her to continually develop skills in producing events and global marketing strategies.


Calum Bayne

Calum Bayne is a Scottish curator based in Manchester (UK). He is a Programme Producer for In-Situ (Brierfield, UK), an interdisciplinary organisation working between arts practice, community engagement and ecology. Through this role, Calum contributes to the delivery of In-Situ’s programme, alongside developing artist, archival and curatorial research. 

In 2022, he was the inaugural Connect Fellow with Newcastle University and The British School at Rome. Through the fellowship, he researched the potential of non-hierarchical and collaborative governance models, artist-led activity, and the impact of ephemeral happenings within regeneration schemes.

Previously based in Newcastle upon Tyne, Calum completed the Fine Art BA(Hons) at Newcastle University in 2018 and was a member of The NewBridge Project’s Programming Committee 2020-21. 

Joe Clegg

Joe Clegg is a Manchester based actor, writer, producer, podcaster and marketer with over six years experience working in the arts, having trained with the Royal Exchange, Contact, the National Youth Theatre and Reform Radio to name a few. Joe is also a writer and producer for new writing theatre company Hung Theatre, and Marketing & Communications Officer at music organisation Brighter Sound.


Dr Tom Chadwick

Tom is a doctor based in West Yorkshire and has a keen interest in youth health and well-being. When not working, Tom loves going to the theatre and listening to music and can usually be found listening to anything from Dolly Parton to Jon Hopkins to show tunes. He is passionate about arts performance and facilitating opportunities to nurture and develop the creative abilities of young people. He also has an interest in safeguarding.

Hamza Jahanzeb

Hamza Jahanzeb is a publishing professional who has worked for PRH in Beijing and London. A Queer British Pakistani, Hamza is passionate for equality in the publishing industry, and is a co-founder of the Pride in Publishing initiative, campaigning for hiring practices to be more inclusive. They were a Bookseller Rising Star in 2020. You can find Hamza on X/Twitter @hamzajahanzeb or on Instagram: @hamzajahanzebuk

Hattie Kongaunruan

Hathaikan/Hattie is a socially engaged artist, facilitator and producer, often working with children, young people and families in co-created ways to highlight our connection of overlooked objects and the value of everyday, mundane experiences. Based in Manchester, Hattie’s practice creates works by reconstructing discarded chairs, furniture and unwanted objects into whimsical creatures reacting to their salvage from landfill. 

Hannah Smith

Hannah is a socially engaged artist, painter and photographer based in Pendle. In 2023 Hannah began a painting series titled Monuments of Society in conjunction with her BA Fine Art degree at UCLan, which delves into her lived experiences of the cost-of-living crisis. Hannah’s work was then selected for the Made It 2023 exhibition at the Royal Standard, winning the Paradise Works Prize. Hannah has now begun postgraduate studies at Salford University, studying an MA in Socially Engaged Arts Practice, developing a body of work that facilitates free and accessible activities for the local people of Pendle during a time of socio- economic strain.

Russell Tennant

Russell has over 20 years working in arts and culture for local authorities, education and the independent arts sector. He is passionate about giving arts opportunities to a wide range of people and helping unleash the creative potential of young people. He has been involved in Blaze from the very beginning. He currently works as an Investment Manager for the National Lottery Heritage Fund.