The Thriving Child

Children and young people can face many challenges in the modern world as they navigate their way through school and home life. Social and economic disadvantage, issues around mental health and well-being, discrimination of many kinds may all combine to prevent children from thriving.

In ‘The Thriving Child’, the Royal Opera House Bridge Annual Conference 2019 we considered these challenges in detail and considered how the arts, creativity and culture can help children and young people to face up to these challenges.

You can watch the provocations from ‘The Thriving Child’ below:

For the first time ever, the Conference was live-streamed from the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden to five other venues across the UK to help initiate a national conversation about these vital issues.

Parallel conferences took place at The Thriving Child in the North (at The Lowry, Salford. Organised by Curious Minds and supported by IVE and Culture Bridge North East); The International Festival of Learning (at West Suffolk College, Bury St Edmunds. Supported by Festival Bridge); The Thriving Child West Midlands (at Midlands Art Centre, Birmingham. Organised by Arts Connect); Creating the Future - Challenging perspectives and expanding horizons for young people (at Curve Theatre, Leicester. Organised by The Mighty Creatives) and The Thriving Child in the South West (at Ocean Studios, Plymouth. Organised by Real Ideas Organisation)

The Royal Opera House's redesigned Linbury Theatre © Hufton+Crow, 2018
The Royal Opera House's redesigned Linbury Theatre © Hufton+Crow, 2018


10.00: Conference opens - The day will be hosted by broadcaster and journalist Kirsty Wark.

Session 1: What is it like for children and young people to live, play and learn in 2019 in the UK?

  • 10.15: Kitty Stewart (Associate Director of the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion) will explore the relationship between poverty and children’s development.
  • 10.35: Darren Chetty (Teacher, writer and researcher) will look at issues around identity and representation as they relate to how children thrive.
  • 10.55: Sonia Livingstone (Professor of Social Psychology, London School of Economics and Political Science) will discuss how children's rights can shape the ways in which children and young people live, learn and play in a digital age.

11.15: Break

Session 2: The lived experience of children and young people

  • 11.40: Performances and presentations by young people from Watford Palace Theatre and Gifted Young Generation from the Grand, Gravesend.

12.30: Lunch break

Session 3: What role do the arts, creativity and cultural learning play in enabling children and young people to thrive?

  • 13.30: Baroness Beeban Kidron (Filmmaker, member of the House of Lords and children's rights campaigner) will discuss what the Durham Commission is illuminating about the potential of creativity to enhance opportunities and mitigate challenges for children and young people.
  • 13.50: Adam Annand (Associate Director and Speech Bubble lead, London Bubble) and Dominic Wyse (Professor of Early Childhood and Primary Education, University College London) will explore emerging findings from Learning about Culture, a two-and-a-half year national investigation by the RSA/EEF into the role that cultural learning plays in improving educational outcomes for children.
  • 14.10: Pat Thomson (Professor of Education, University of Nottingham & Convenor of the Centre for Research in Arts, Creativity and Literacy) will explore the role children and young people play in both consuming and creating culture.

Session 4:  Do we need to work differently?

  • 14.30: Audience discussion led by Kirsty Wark.
  • 14.55: In the final address of the day, Akala will explore his perspectives on childhood and adolescence and what changes in practice might be needed to allow children to thrive - including an historical take on who is nurtured and who is failed by the education system in the UK.

Speaker Biographies

Kitty Stewart is Associate Professor of Social Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and Associate Director of LSE’s Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion. She has a PhD in Economics from the European University Institute, Florence, and worked at UNICEF Innocent Research Centre before joining LSE in 2001. Her research focuses on the causes and consequences of child poverty, the relationship between income and wider outcomes, and policy for young children. Recent publications include Does money affect children’s outcomes? An updated systematic review (Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2017, with Kerris Cooper) and, as part of a team at CASE, Social Policy in a Cold Climate: Policies and their consequences since the crisis (Policy Press, 2016).

Darren Chetty

Darren Chetty taught in London primary schools for twenty years and is currently a Teaching Fellow at UCL Institute of Education. His doctoral research focuses on Philosophy for Children, Multiculturalism and Racism. He is the author of the essay ‘You Can’t Say That! Stories Have to be About White People’ in ‘The Good Immigrant’, edited by Nikesh Shukla.

Darren co-writes, with Karen Sands-O’Connor, ‘Beyond the Secret Garden?’ a regular column on children’s literature for Books for Keeps. He convenes the ‘UK #HipHopEd’ Seminar Series for anyone with an interest in the relationship between education and hip hop culture. He co-authored, with Jeffrey Boakye, ‘What is Masculinity? Why Does it Matter? And Other Big Questions’, published in 2019.

Sonia Livingstone

Sonia Livingstone DPhil (Oxon), FBA, FBPS, FAcSS, FRSA, OBE is a professor in the Department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She researches media audiences, especially children’s and young people’s risks and opportunities, media literacy, and rights in the digital environment, and has published 20 books including “The Class: Living and Learning in the Digital Age.” Sonia has advised the UK government, European Commission, European Parliament, Council of Europe, OECD and UNICEF, among others, on children’s internet risks, safety, media literacy and rights in digital environments. She blogs at

Baroness Beeban Kidron

Beeban Kidron spent over 35 years working as a filmmaker before being appointed to the House of Lords in 2012.

Baroness Kidron is a member of the House of Lords Communications Committee, a trustee of Into Film, a patron of Law Action Worldwide, a member of the Arts Council England and Durham University Commission on Creativity and Education, and a Visiting Fellow at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University.

She founded 5Rights Foundation, who seek to deliver the established rights of children in all interactions with the digital world. She sits on the WeProtect Child Dignity Alliance Technical Working Group; the Global Council for Extended Intelligence, and is a Commissioner on the UN Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development.

Adam Annand

Adam trained on the Community Theatre Arts course at Rose Bruford College and has worked in community theatre, young peoples theatre, youth theatre and theatre in education as an actor, writer, facilitator and director. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s he was an actor/teacher and then TIE team leader at Greenwich Young Peoples Theatre. In 2004 he took part in the Teacher Artist Partnership Programme, a highly innovative arts development programme. After a short spell at Half Moon Young people’s Theatre he took up the post of Associate Director, Creative Learning at London Bubble in 2008. He has led on developing Speech bubbles for schools in South East London and has established the National Speech Bubbles programme which currently has eight theatre partners

Dominic Wyse

Dominic Wyse is Professor of Early Childhood and Primary Education at University College London (UCL), Institute of Education (IOE), and Founding Director of the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Pedagogy. His research focuses on pedagogy and curriculum, particularly writing, reading and creativity. Dominic’s research includes more than 20 years of work on the teaching and learning of writing including his book How Writing Works: From the Invention of the Alphabet to the Rise of Social Media (Cambridge University Press). Dominic is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences (FAcSS), an incoming President of the British Educational Research Association (BERA), and a fellow of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA). Previously Dominic was a Senior Lecturer at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Churchill College Cambridge.

Pat Thomson

Pat Thomson PSM PhD FRSA FAcSS is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham. She was a headteacher in South Australia for twenty years. Her main area of research is the arts and cultural education in schools, museums and communities; she also has a long-term concern with young people excluded from schooling. Her research is underpinned by commitments to social justice and to democratic and collaborative ways of working. She is a compulsive writer and blogs and tweets daily - see her academic writing and research blog on and twitter @ThomsonPat.


BAFTA and MOBO award-winning hip hop artist, writer/poet and historian ‘Akala’ is a label owner and social entrepreneur who fuses unique rap/rock/electro-punk sound with fierce lyrical storytelling. Inspired by the likes of Saul Williams and Gil Scot-Heron, over the years Akala has developed a stellar live show with his renowned drummer/award-winning music producer Cassell ‘TheBeatmaker’ (Plan B, The Streets and Keziah Jones) headlining 6 UK tours as well as touring with the likes of Jay-Z, Nas & Damian Marley, M.I.A. and Christina Aguilera to Siouxsie Sue, Damon Albarn’s (‘Blur’/Gorillaz’) ‘Africa Express’ and Richard Ashcroft, appearing at numerous UK / European and US festivals (Glastonbury, Big Chill, Wireless, V, Hove and SXSW) as well as collaborations with British Council arts/music projects across several countries in South-east Asia, Africa, The Philippines, New Zealand and Australia.

Akala is more recently known for his compelling lectures/seminars, journalism (Guardian, Huffington Post UK and the Independent), TV presenting and script-writing talents and has gained a reputation as one of the most dynamic and literate talents in the UK.

Akala has also featured on numerous TV programmes across Channel 4, ITV2, MTV, Sky Arts and the BBC promoting his music, poetry as well as speaking on wide ranging subjects from music, youth engagement, British / African-Caribbean culture and the arts as a whole.

In 2009, Akala launched the ‘The Hip-hop Shakespeare Company’, a music theatre production company which has sparked worldwide media interest since its inception. Previous clients/collaborators include: BBC, Mastercard, London 2012, First Direct Bank, The Barbican, The Roundhouse, The Southbank Centre, British actor; Sir Ian McKellen, singer/songwriter Ed Sheeran, actor/musician; Colin Salmon, Ms. Dynamite and The Royal Shakespeare Company’s Voice Director; Cicely Berry.

He speaks brilliantly on a variety of topics, from the relations between music and modern media to literature, education and social issues, using his vast historic knowledge and personal experiences.

'The Thriving Child' in Covent Garden is delivered in collaboration with:

Conferences around the country are delivered in partnership with:

Supported by: