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Thousands of new opportunities for young people to get involved in theatre, in their local neighbourhoods and at world-class venues, will be created in Croydon as the borough becomes one of five Youth Performance Partnerships in England.

The Secretary of State for Culture Jeremy Wright announced today (Friday 22 March) that Croydon’s partnership has successfully bid for the £1m Arts Council England funding for the London region, fending off competition from across the capital.

Developed by Croydon Council, through Croydon Music & Arts hub, with young people, arts organisations and schools, the three-year programme will create performing arts opportunities for more than 2,000 young people locally. It will specifically target black, asian and minority ethnic young people who are historically under-represented in theatre.

The ambitious scheme will bring local arts organisations and schools together with national companies like Talawa, The BRIT School and Dance Umbrella to teach young people practical performance skills. There will be equal emphasis on both off stage and on stage professions with script writing, directing and tech as important as drama, dance and music.

Training will involve a huge range of local partners, including SAVVY Theatre Company, ZooCo, Well-Versed Ink, Reaching Higher and Syrus Consultancy, with more than 150 The BRIT School students aged 16-19 offering peer-to-peer support every year.

The workshops will be delivered in schools and community centres, initially focused in three neighbourhoods – New Addington, Thornton Heath and South Norwood – with opportunities for young people and schools across the borough to participate. The neighbourhood activity will be co-ordinated by Meridian High Secondary School, Oasis Ryelands Primary school and Legacy, Croydon’s new state of the art Youth Zone opening in summer 2019, all of whom were partners in Croydon’s bid.

As part of the programme, the young people will have opportunities to perform in or work on three large-scale productions at Croydon’s stunning new arts centre, The Fairfield Halls, creating a sense of ownership with the venue and building their confidence. They will also experience performances and go backstage at theatres and arts centres throughout London and the South East.

Several young ambassadors from the borough have helped to shape the programme, including spoken word artist Zhanai Wallace, 15; Keanu Reid, from the hugely successful Croydon Rap Club; Jude Yawson from #Merkybooks, who co-wrote Stormzy’s recent autobiography Rise Up; and Mason Sestanovich AKA ‘Rager’, 16.

Zhanai Wallace’s poem The Garden of Croydon was featured in the bid and performed by her for the Minister during his visit to The BRIT School, where he met the partners in the bid this week.

Zhanai said: “I think it’s really important to get young people all around the borough involved in arts programmes. It gets them off the streets and it gives them an opportunity to express their emotions which I know has helped me. It boosts young people and it gives them a platform and a stage.”

The programme will be promoted in the first year with a series of public events in the neighbourhoods, including flash mobs and pop up performances from The BRIT School, Dance Umbrella and Croydon Rap Club, as well as Croydon’s second annual spoken word festival Living in Poetry 2019 coordinated by consortium partner Well Versed Ink.

Councillor Oliver Lewis, cabinet member for culture and leisure, said: “This fantastic programme builds on our drive to create opportunities for young people to get involved in the arts – particularly those who might not otherwise have the chance. With 93,000 young people, Croydon is brimming with talent and energy; we are proud to have amazing partners like The BRIT School, and organisations like Talawa and Dance Umbrella coming to Croydon through our investment in culture. This partnership will be hugely important in ensuring all our young people can access the many opportunities this brings.”

Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright said: “As I know from my own experience, performing on stage can be transformative for young people. It can boost self-esteem, build confidence and teach skills they will use throughout their lives. Whilst I’ve seen first-hand some of the excellent work by schools and theatre groups, too many children around the country still do not have the opportunity to take part either on stage or behind the scenes. Our Youth Performance Partnerships will give thousands of young people the chance to work directly with world-class cultural organisations and inspire the next generation of playwrights, actors or producers.”

Anne Appelbaum, director, children and young people, Arts Council England said: “We are delighted to support this partnership in Croydon. We know that talent is everywhere but opportunity isn’t, and it is through programmes like this that we will change that. We hope that this programme will uncover some of this country’s next superstars on stage, but whether these young people go on to become performers or not, this will be a life-changing experience.”

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