Find out what we are doing to become more inclusive, responsible, and accountable. These commitments are made with our staff, artists and audiences in mind, and are designed to improve access to opera and ballet for all.
Recruiting and working with talented teams is just the start. We are working to create an environment where everyone knows they belong and feel that they can do their best work. This requires inclusive leaders with the ability and desire to continually seek feedback, to really listen and to establish a culture where diversity is genuinely valued and promoted.
Priority headlines from our EDI plans include:
The Royal Opera House Board of Trustees and Executive Team are responsible for the delivery of this plan.
Opera and ballet should belong to everyone. We acknowledge that people have experienced long-standing underrepresentation, inequality and micro-aggression as a result of their skin colour, ethnicity and/or faith. We commit to confronting racism and discrimination, to employing and celebrating work by people of colour, and to creating a more inclusive environment in which everyone can thrive.
In 2022 Lucy joined the Royal Opera House orchestra mentorship scheme, working with Orchestra of the Royal Opera House Principal Bass Clarinettist, Marina Finnamore who supported Lucy on the Overture programme as her mentor.
Lucy explains: 'Whilst I enjoy being at Durham University, which has an incredible student-led music scene, I often felt inferior in comparison to some of my peers as I didn’t have the opportunities my peers did whilst growing up. The chance to be part of national schemes such as National Youth Orchestra were not possible for me for financial and geographical reasons, and I began to doubt my performing abilities. When I was accepted onto the Royal Opera House orchestral mentorship scheme it gave me a huge confidence boost and from the moment Marina walked through the doors on the induction day and greeted me with a smile, I knew that we would work well together.'
A clarinettist with the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House for 26 years Marina was keen to mentor young talent through the Overture scheme and set out on her mentoring journey ‘armed with no sense of purpose other than trying to do some good, and some words of positive encouragement from Roger Wilson (a project lead at Black Lives in Music, co-collaborators on this project).
'I met Lucy for the first time in September and that afternoon the mentees sat with their mentors in the orchestra to experience an orchestra rehearsal of La Bohème. Throughout the rehearsal I pointed out to Lucy the various aspects of good orchestral technique that my colleagues were demonstrating. Following this came the hard work of the consultation lessons and preparing our mentees for a mock audition – an opportunity to experience the kind of audition they will undergo in their career and receive immediate feedback from a friendly panel of orchestra musicians, including their mentor.'
Describing Lucy’s first lesson, Marina says ‘she played very timidly, so we worked on improving her tone quality and volume…During every subsequent lesson she rewarded our mutual efforts by surpassing both of our expectations. Sitting next to me in the pit for a general rehearsal gave her the opportunity to hear the necessary level of dynamic to project to the audience at the back of the amphitheatre, which I referred back to during our lessons.’
Lucy reflected: 'It has been a real privilege to be taught by someone who has been in the industry for so long and through her expert mentorship, I have really developed as a musician. Marina has made me think more deeply about my breathing and support whilst playing, the shape of the music, and the overall sound quality that I produce, and I am pleased to report this great advice has led to a really noticeable difference in my playing.'
Both Lucy and Marina have found the experience to be truly rewarding. For Lucy, the offer of a Postgraduate place at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance following Marina’s guidance in lessons means she now ‘dares to dream of an orchestral career’, and for Marina, her proudest moment was Lucy’s mock audition which she describes as being ‘full of character, technically impressive and a world apart from the level of playing I’d witnessed only four months ago’.
Every year, the Royal Opera House recognises the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. For us, this means shining a light on the extraordinary impact disabled staff and artists we work with make on the output of our organisation and the wider industry.
We commit to confronting ableism, to creating a more inclusive environment in which everyone feels welcome and can thrive, and to celebrating the work of disabled people. We endeavour to be proactive and to look beyond our legal responsibilities and the expectations of funders in order to continually learn from each other’s experiences and practices.
The Royal Opera House is pleased to support the Seven Principles of Inclusion and discussions are ongoing across the organisation to establish how we will embed these principles in all of our work.
Better access and inclusion for disabled people benefits everyone at the ROH and we are a Disability Confident employer. Our work in this area ensures that we can nurture new talent and take on board different perspectives, helping us to reflect on, and frequently improve, the experience we offer to every colleague and customer, whether or not they consider themselves disabled.
For over 30 years, Monday Moves, the Royal Opera House’s class for visually impaired adults, challenged the perception of ballet as a predominantly visual art form. Find out more about the legacy of this vital initiative, and how it continues to inform conversations around inclusivity at the theatre.
‘A lot of people think ballet is sacred, that you can't mess with it,’ says David Pickering, a former Royal Ballet Soloist who now works as the Creative Associate in the Royal Opera House’s Learning and Participation department. ‘That's just not the case at all. You can use the fundamental principles of ballet—like extension, balancing, turns, and counterpull—with anyone from young children to grown-ups with access needs. Once you have them, the sky’s the limit.’
Pickering speaks from experience. For nine years, he taught Monday Moves, a weekly dance programme in the De Valois studio for visually impaired adults. Started by modern dancer Stanley Hamilton, the class was made up of participants from all walks of life—from NHS workers to musicians—some of whom attended regularly since the 80s. Initially, Monday Moves focused on exercise, stretching, and free movement as a way to help visually impaired people improve their posture. Shortly after Hamilton sadly fell ill in the early 2010s, Pickering took over as Monday Moves’ main teacher and shifted the focus towards ballet.
It was a smart move: through the course of teaching the class ‘it became very apparent that compared to other dance forms, ballet has got a lot of named movements and positions,’ says Pickering. As a result, regular attendees acquired a vocabulary that enabled them to—aided by audio description and tactile feedback—learn and reproduce complex choreography inspired by the ballets on stage at the Royal Opera House. ‘The group would embrace everything from the classics to more abstract pieces by the likes of Wayne McGregor and Frederick Ashton,’ he adds, noting that working with live musicians every class also helped provide ‘the full Royal Opera House experience.’
The programme was more than just a weekly dance class. Pickering often organised sessions with the costume, prop, and armoury departments so the class participants could touch objects, try on garments, and learn about their historical significance. ‘Anything sensory with a group like Monday Moves is hugely beneficial,’ he says. Sometimes, the group would attend bespoke ‘touch tours’—pre-show sensory tours giving context to visually impaired audience members by enabling them to familiarise themselves with the studio and productions—as well as Royal Ballet rehearsals on the Main Stage. ‘Kevin O'Hare, the Royal Ballet’s Director, was 100% aware of the group and would invite them along.’
It wasn’t all smooth sailing, however, and these additional activities presented their own challenges. For example, while the class’s carers often provided audio description for Royal Ballet rehearsals, they weren’t necessarily best placed to do so. Ramona Williams—one of Monday Moves’ participants, who also gives sight loss awareness training to organisations and employers—explains that audio description should really be delivered by people who are present during the Company’s creation process and have an in-depth knowledge of the work. Many lessons were learnt, but ‘it was 100% a two-way dialogue,’ says Pickering, noting how he has applied knowledge he accrued to other programmes he works on. ‘It's about learning how to work with who's in front of you, and planning how to make that space inclusive for each and every member of the class.’
Pickering obviously made some mistakes over the years—he recalls asking the group to spell their names with their bodies in an exercise inspired by Wayne McGregor’s Chroma, before realising one member of the group had never seen the alphabet and only read braille. Overtime, however, he developed techniques to ensure everyone felt welcome and included. ‘We always started by making a semicircle. Whoever was in the room would do a ballet movement and say their name,’ says Williams, explaining that with a visually impaired class, unless it’s explicitly stated, you can’t presume everyone knows who is present. ‘David also always took us around the space so we knew how big it was or if there were any props lying around.’
Practices like this, combined with the fact that the class always took place in the same studio, enabled the participants to orient themselves and feel self-assured. ‘They could travel, run, jump, and be free to do things that they couldn't do safely anywhere else,’ says Pickering. Consequently, the Monday Movers not only developed their creativity, mobility, flexibility, and balance, but also their confidence. ‘Even though I was really confident already, it made me feel more comfortable to just go out and be myself,’ says Williams. There was also a strong social aspect to the class. ‘You could meet visually impaired people who were like you. We’d often have coffee after class. It gave us independence.’
In 2020, the Royal Opera House had to cancel Monday Moves as a result of COVID-19-induced financial and logistical challenges, but they are committed to staying connected with the group they’ve known and loved for so many decades. Since then, the Learning and Participation team have run ‘Creative Exchanges’—eight-week long creative projects for underrepresented and underserved adult communities—for former Monday Moves participants and the wider visually impaired community.
The first took place earlier this year. Inspired by Frederick Ashton’s Rhapsody (1980), the series of workshops featured a guest appearance from Lesley Collier—the first to dance the female principal role alongside Mikhail Baryshnikov—and, as with some other Creative Exchanges, culminated in a performance in the Paul Hamlyn Hall during a Live at Lunch event. ‘We always loved doing sharings at Monday Moves,’ says Williams, recalling one where she brought in some sight loss simulation glasses for members of the public to try. ‘It opened up people’s minds. People have this misconception you’re either blind or partially sighted, but there are many different spectrums of sight loss. Only a small percentage of people with sight loss are totally blind, while others might be able to see light and dark, see shapes, or see blurrily.’ Sharing this information changed the way audiences thought too. ‘They didn’t look at us with pity,’ she adds, ‘or think that the Royal Opera House was exploiting us, which I’ve heard people say before. People think that if you’re visually impaired, you can't do anything. That’s not true. We can make our own informed decisions.’
The legacy of the Monday Moves programme is keenly felt in other ways too, and points raised by the group have inspired internal conversations about access at the organisation. Amongst other things, they’ve highlighted the need for better audio descriptions of performances, more accessible routes into the building—Pickering notes that getting from Covent Garden tube station to the Royal Opera House is a ‘hell of a journey’ for someone with sight loss—people to take care of service dogs during performances, and regular touch tours that are available as standard practice, not just when requested. All of these services are things that the Royal Opera House has committed to improving.
Learnings from over 30 years of Monday Moves will also inspire an upcoming teacher training workshop. It will offer a rare opportunity for dance teachers from around the country to gain valuable knowledge on how to run classes for people with access needs, and the hope is that the influence of Monday Moves will ripple out far beyond the Royal Opera House. ‘It can be so easy to shut down certain groups of people, because one might wrongly assume that it’s not possible to achieve as much as they actually can,’ says Pickering. ‘I found it remarkable what people could do in that class. I feel very lucky to have been the caretaker of a really brilliant group of people over the last eight or nine years, and for us to be able to share and enjoy the repertory of The Royal Ballet together.’
Our Environmental strategy focuses on the following key areas:
We operate across three sites in Covent Garden, Thurrock and Aberdare. Over the last decade we have been improving energy and waste management across our estate. Building on our progress to date, we are committed to:
Developing an Estates Plan that includes upgrades to our infrastructure and equipment, utilising technology to drive down our carbon emissions.
Monitoring our energy and water consumption to enable us to target reduction initiatives in a timely way and effectively.
Promoting the waste hierarchy to avoid, reduce, reuse and recycle waste and ensure zero waste is sent to landfill.
Monitoring waste production and recycling rates, ensuring the right facilities are available for our staff and visitors.
Engaging and supporting our staff to enable energy, waste and water reductions within their areas of influence.
Our productions have an impact on the environment across their lifecycle, from their creation and performance to the transportation and storage of sets and costumes. We are committed to:
Establishing a framework for reducing the environmental impact of our productions in partnership with the wider cultural sector, such as the Theatres Trust Green Book Initiative.
Promoting efficient use of materials and exploring more sustainable and ethical options to implement.
Minimising our use of resources including our consumption of energy, water and raw materials by working closely with our suppliers, designers and staff to ensure these reductions are prioritised and embedded.
Avoiding unnecessary use of hazardous materials and taking responsible steps to prevent pollution.
Our main operational activities include on site catering, retail and events as well as all the administrative functions required to run a large organisation. We are committed to:
Evaluating and prioritising the environmental policies of our contractors, together with specifying and monitoring sustainability requirements for new contractors through the procurement process.
Improving the environmental sustainability of our catering offering focusing on food sourcing and minimising packaging, particularly single-use plastics.
Reviewing our retail offering and expanding our range to organic, ethically certified, reusable or recycled products.
Reviewing our travel policy and practises to ensure that we can measure and reduce emissions from business travel.
We are committed to working with our staff, artists, audiences and industry stakeholders to enable and inspire environmental action. We will:
Enable and support our staff to take action providing training and other resources where possible.
Communicate with our audiences and visitors about our plans, progress and how they can make sustainable choices when visiting us.
Encourage, enable and participate in public discussions concerning environmental issues.
Be transparent about our efforts and share our knowledge, encouraging the exchange of ideas with stakeholders, suppliers and audiences.
It is our belief that reducing our environmental impact will not only have a positive effect on the environment, but will also make our operations more efficient and economical and will enhance our organisational resilience in the long term.
We will monitor and report on our progress each year. This policy is reviewed on an annual basis, ensuring compliance with statutory requirements and organisational priorities.
Our strategy focusses on four strands: on improving energy and waste management across our buildings; on reducing the carbon footprint of our productions; on minimizing the impact of our catering, retail and events; and on inspiring our staff, artists, audiences and stakeholders to support action against climate change. Every department at ROH has committed to changing for the better.
Although we are still near the beginning of our journey, we have already made improvements. Our iconic building is undergoing work to reduce energy emissions, and we have so far managed to reduce our gas consumption by an average of 31% per month compared with 2018/19. We offset the gas that we do use and have a renewable energy tariff, which we share with other arts venues.
We are no longer issuing paper tickets or cast sheets, saving us over 5 tonnes of paper each year, and have installed water fountains, preventing an average of 17,000 plastic bottles a month entering landfill. Our disposable cups are made from plant-based Vegware – a compostable material that releases 2.5 times less CO2 than recycling – and reusable bottles are available to purchase from our shop.
We’re reducing our carbon footprint backstage too. At ROH, we strive to make beautiful, innovative productions that last in the memories of our audiences, and, to do this sustainably, we must work to reuse, repair and repurpose sets, props and costumes. Each garment we make can be altered to fit different artists, and each item has its own handbook so that future repairs can be made to match exactly, minimising the need for replacements. Going forward, we are setting up processes to monitor our material use, ensuring that we can tightly measure our impact and progress.
Recently, we partnered with London-based charity Suited & Booted to support this work. The aim was to extend the life of almost 2,000 staff uniforms – including jackets, trousers and shirts – by giving them to a group of vulnerable, unemployed and low-income individuals preparing for job interviews. The project saved 17 tonnes of CO2E (the equivalent of 17 hot air balloons) from being released into the atmosphere simply by reusing quality clothing. It also changed lives, enabling service users to move forward following difficult life experiences – including addiction, prison and homelessness – and take an important step on their professional journey.
We are proud to be working with others to achieve our goals. Over the summer, we hosted an event for cultural organisations which provided energy management training delivered by Julie’s Bicycle as part of the Arts Council England Spotlight programme. The lectures and discussions were not only a valuable opportunity to discuss environmental ideas and share findings, but a reminder that we can only achieve net zero emissions through industry and audience collaboration.
And that, of course, means working with our audiences too. Considering how you could sustainably travel to Covent Garden, bringing a reusable water bottle, and selecting our vegetarian and vegan menu options will all make a difference. We want to extend our thanks to you all for your support so far, and look forward to achieving our goal of net zero by 2035 together.
Over several months we have been developing the Royal Opera House Freelance Community Charter. We have been sharing thinking with a number of peer organisations across the sector, and working with the freelance community itself. The Charter sets out the principles of working with freelancers, casuals and others with fairness and respect at its heart. We will review progress annually, along with the freelance community.
Our digital output allows us to reach audiences far beyond the capital. Cinema screenings, streams and televised productions reach an audience of over one million, and 40,000 hours of masterclasses, workshops, rehearsals and performances were made available free of charge during the 2018/19 Season. During the first six months of the Coronavirus pandemic, we broadcast 19 archive productions and three ‘Live from Covent Garden’ performances.
Last Season (2021/22), we worked with over 2,000 teachers in almost 900 schools – the majority outside London – through our National Learning Programmes, which combine teacher training, digital resources and live workshops. Continuing projects include Chance to Dance, which works with dance schools country-wide to support talented young performers, our partnership with Cast in Doncaster; our Thurrock Trailblazer programme, which has helped 72% of schools in the borough access arts and culture; and ROH Bridge, which works across Essex, North Kent, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire.
The Royal Opera House’s National Schools’ Programme is called Create & Learn. Split into three disciplines – Create & Dance, Create & Sing, and Create & Design – the programme aims to inspire creativity in schools from Cornwall to Cumbria, build teachers’ confidence and embed cultural learning at the heart of the curriculum. Following the success of last year, which saw over almost 900 schools engage with the work, the programme will this Season reach teachers and students in: London, Blackpool, Knowsley, Rotherham, King’s Lynn and West Norfolk, Newcastle and North Tyneside, Basildon, Doncaster, Peterborough, Medway, Thurrock, Coventry, Surrey, the West Midlands and East Anglia, providing training, events and resources created for teachers by teachers.
Across the year, the Royal Opera House team run deep partnerships in Doncaster, Thurrock and the North East, bringing together local schools and arts organisations to effect systemic change, ensuring that people living in areas of historically low cultural engagement and spending have invaluable access to cultural and creative opportunities too. The programme is completely free to state-funded schools.
Royal Opera House Covent Garden Foundation, a charitable company limited by guarantee incorporated in England and Wales (Company number 480523) Charity Registered (Number 211775)