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Spotlight: Balancing Access And Sustainability

Next Generation Youth Theatre (NGYT) in Luton was set up by husband and wife team David and Laura Lloyd in 2012 to ‘provide opportunities for young people aged 4 - 24 to express themselves creatively’.

Here, David shares some of the challenges faced by leaders of small arts organisations and the active role they play in helping to ensure that all children and young people can access high quality arts and cultural activities.

Our Ethos 

 It is our mission to make Luton and Dunstable places that are known for artistic excellence for years to come.

At Next Generation Youth Theatre we believe that all children and young people deserve the chance to express themselves and perform. We pride ourselves on providing as many opportunities for expression as possible, in a fun, highly ambitious, creative and supportive learning environment.

We run inclusive classes that cater for all levels as well as auditioned groups for the high levels.

It is our mission to make Luton and Dunstable places that are known for artistic excellence for years to come.

youth theatre in Luton

Balancing Access And Sustainability

My Dad has always told me (having worked in business management) that it is important you recognise your own value in order for people to appreciate that what you provide is worth paying for. If it's too cheap it says something about what you offer.

As an independent organisation providing access to our classes at a cost that is affordable and reflective of quality is incredibly difficult.

We have to pay for teachers, insurance, sets, costumes and hall-hire (the list could go on) and cannot afford to reduce prices any further.

We also find ourselves in a strange position of competing with schools and other fully funded programmes. We often have to justify to parents why our activities are different and we have to charge for them.

It is a real shame that some children either leave or never join because money is seen as a barrier and this is something we need to remove where possible. We already offer a large number of discounted and, in some cases, free places to children whose parents have told us they are unable to afford to send their child.

The business brain says we cannot afford to offer these places without subsidy and the heart says we must find a way to guarantee children can experience what we offer.

 

It may seem slightly idealistic but we refuse to let money be the reason a young person is not able to pursue something that they may potentially love and be incredibly skilled at in the future.

We have approached local businesses and the council to help us reduce charges – however, sadly, investing in the arts does not seem to offer much of a return for them. Convincing those outside of the arts and evidencing our impact in a meaningful way is a huge challenge. Confidence, self esteem and even the perceived success of a production are not outcomes that can be easily measured and thus do not show any form of return in the eyes of the local authorities and businesses.

Family Fundraising

The place where we do get a lot more success in raising funds is with those who understand the arts and appreciate the impact they can have on the lives of young people. I'm talking about family, community and those already involved in the arts.

Recently, we took to crowdfunding to raise money to send our theatre company to the Brighton Fringe. I am delighted to say the £1000 was raised and came from many a varied pocket -  from parents of our children, to local theatre companies, local press reporters and one very generous donor. What connected all of these people was a shared love or respect for what we offer. This fantastic community of supporters has come to be known as the #NGYTfamily.

The funds raised will be used to create an annual ‘#NGYTfamily Scholarship’.

#NGYTfamily Scholarships

We are keen to explore new ways to build on this support and to strengthen the concept of an ‘NGYT Family’. In addition to our regular fundraising events we are going to start offering parents the option to donate an extra £1 each half term. The funds raised through this will be used to create an annual ‘#NGYTfamily Scholarship’.  This will provide free classes for students whose parents cannot afford to pay. We hope through the community supporting each other in this way we will not only provide access for more young people in need but also increase our reach for long term sustainability.

Long-term Impact

Over the last three and a half years we have faced many financial hurdles and at times have questioned whether or not we can carry on. At the end of the day arts professionals have families and mortgages too and we are often seen as the sector that is expected to work for free.

As a small business we also recognise the importance of growing. More people will help us increase our outreach and allow us to diversify. Laura and I are aware that we are currently at capacity in terms of what we are able to offer. With well over 250 young people attending classes and companies Monday to Friday and hundreds more being taught by NGYT in their schools we do not intend to stand still.

Despite all the challenges one thing remains - as long as you love your art and recognise the power and impact it can have on young people - then nothing will stop us from making sure the next generation has the right to take part in the opportunities we will continue to create.

The challenge is for us to extend this understanding to others and the way of achieving this is to ensure more and more young people have the opportunity to experience what we do.

Written by David Lloyd, Co-Founder Next Generation Youth Theatre, @NGYT_UK

More In The Spotlight

The Royal Opera House Bridge Spotlight is a selection of stories, profiles and provocations from inspiring leaders in cultural learning across Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Essex and North Kent. Explore more…

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