Norwich Theatre Royal unveils new education trust

Peter Wilson, chief executive of Norwich Theatre Royal.
PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY Peter Wilson, chief executive of Norwich Theatre Royal. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

Friday, December 6, 2013
1:01 PM

Children and young people in Norfolk are set to be given greater opportunities in the arts thanks to a new partnership involving Norwich Theatre Royal.

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Exciting plans to boost educational opportunities for schools and increase the aspirations of young people have been unveiled today by the theatre.

The city venue is forming an educational trust with Hellesdon High School and Arden Grove Infant and Nursery School in Norwich to create a host of cross-curriculum learning opportunities to help improve the achievements of pupils in the classroom.

Peter Wilson, the theatre’s chief executive, said: “This is, as far as I know, a unique partnership between a major regional receiving theatre and the world of formal education. It has been brokered by Norfolk County Council Children’s Services.

“We will continue to work with all schools and learning establishments as well as Arden Grove and Hellesdon, but we regard this Trust as a visible and concrete representation of our determination to contribute to the betterment of the whole region.”

The announcement forms part of the theatre’s annual meeting today which also sets out both its performance over the past 12 months and its future plans.

The pioneering project is being welcomed by both of the theatre’s educational partners.

Gerry Batty, head of Hellesdon High School, said: “The new umbrella trust will change the way schools and professional performing arts work together. This goes beyond workshops and interactive theatre into the realms of having a profound effect on the lives of young people.

“The planned activities will endeavour to tackle the root cause of underachievement and raise self-esteem through a fuller understanding of how the performing arts can give our young people confidence and skills which are essential in this increasingly competitive world. What is more, it will be done through activities that are fun, thought provoking and which will enrich them throughout their lives.”

Daniel Thrower, head at Arden Grove Infant and Nursery School, added: “It is very exciting to be working in this very committed partnership. There is real intent to promote the arts and I know this will impact greatly on the education of our children both now and when they go to Hellesdon High.

“Plans for the coming months are so exciting and this trust will bring our children and wider community an array of wonderful experiences and opportunities. I am sure parents will embrace this partnership and want their children to be part of something that is so innovative and exciting.”

Welcoming the scheme, Mick Castle, Norfolk County Council’s cabinet member for education and schools, said: “This is an exciting project that will bring theatre alive for Norfolk’s children and young people, providing even greater links between the Theatre Royal and Norfolk’s schools.

“This work will link with several key areas of the curriculum, including Drama and English, and will inspire the learning and boost the achievement of young people.

The trust, together with the already thriving education department within the theatre, are the first stages of a long-term bid to enhance the county’s learning, the annual meeting will hear.

Mr Wilson said: “We have ambitious plans to refine and focus, develop and reinvent all our educational work at every level in and out of schools, academies and universities in a new building.

“We aim to construct next to the Theatre Royal a centre for the fostering of arts education, training and skills to fulfil our historic mission to be a resource for the whole county and city of which we are so proud, and after whom we are named.

“We will work with any organisation, any school or academy, any local authority or company, and any person who shares our aims and wants to work with us.”

The announcement comes as the theatre also unveils its annual survey, which sets out its performance over the financial year 2012-13.

It shows the theatre sold a total of 404,089 tickets worth a total value of £9,432,284, a rise of 13 per cent year-on-year, partly down to the five-week run of the classic musical Oliver!. Produced by globally-renowned entrepreneur Cameron Mackintosh and starring Brian Conley, it proved incredibly popular despite the parallel attractions of the London Olympics and Paralympics during its run.

This financial rise helped to generate an operational surplus of £466,000 which will be ploughed back into the theatre and its educational work.

As well as Oliver!, the annual meeting will hear there were a host of other on-stage successes including four different productions by world-renowned choreographer Matthew Bourne, two separate visits from the all-male Shakespeare company Propeller including the launch of their 2013 tour, and the National Theatre’s hit touring production of One Man, Two Guv’nors which starred Rufus Hound.

Audiences remain buoyant with an average occupancy of 77 per cent throughout the year and membership of the theatre’s Friends scheme also continued to rise increasing almost two per cent year-on-year to 11,891, nearly six times the national average.

The theatre is also showing good progress in a comparison with 15 other regional venues of a similar size and capacity. Its annual capacity is 17 per cent higher than the measurable national average of 60 per cent.

It also continues to make a major financial impact on the local economy of £28m, an increase of almost 10 per cent year-on-year. This figure is calculated by looking at a number of factors including the theatre’s turnover, staff wages, subsistence paid to performers, and the secondary costs to theatre patrons including food, drink, parking and babysitting.

David Merrick, Norwich Theatre Royal chairman, said he was delighted by the results of the annual survey. “This incredible – and unprecedented in the UK – performance is generated by an amazingly loyal and talented, hard-working team of staff who show great attention to detail.”

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