Priya Sembi-Harding, Stage Engineering Apprentice © ROH/Sim Cannety-Clark, 2013
Priya Sembi-Harding, Stage Engineering Apprentice © ROH/Sim Cannety-Clark, 2013

The Derek Butler Trust

The Apprenticeships Scheme, supported by the Derek Butler Trust

The Royal Opera House has been training the next generation of theatrical craftspeople and technicians since 2007. In September 2016 we welcomed our 50th apprentice.

We recognized the need to offer young people opportunities in backstage careers, which can be hard to come by and often rely on unpaid work experience. We began the ROH Apprenticeships Scheme with the aim to provide fit-for-purpose training in areas identified as experiencing a skills gap across the cultural industries.

Each apprenticeship combines on-the-job training and studying towards a formal qualification, and lasts for two to three years. Thanks to a generous endowment gift from the Derek Butler Trust, in September 2013 we expanded the number and range of apprenticeships we can offer.

Daniel Arif, Sound and Audio Visual Apprentice © ROH/Sim Cannety-Clark
Daniel Arif, Sound and Audio Visual Apprentice © ROH/Sim Cannety-Clark

‘Everything is becoming second nature now. I rarely have to think about where I need to plug something in or how I’m going to route a cable somewhere, I just do it’, says Daniel Arif, an Apprentice in the Sound and Audio-Visual Department. Arif says he’s learnt a huge amount since starting his apprenticeship. ‘Going from such small-scale work to something so large here has really been a challenge to pick up, but now I’ve got the hang of how everything works.’

Derek Butler, founder of the Trust, was himself an apprentice and understood the life-long impact such an opportunity can have on a young person. Not only do apprentices develop specialized skills and receive the highest standard of training, they also build lasting friendships with staff and fellow apprentices across the Royal Opera House.

To date, the Derek Butler Trust has given 25 young people access to life-changing experiences across a whole range of departments at the Royal Opera House, including Wigs and Make-Up, Costume, Technical Theatre, Lighting, Sound and Audio-Visual, Props, Carpentry and Scenic Metalwork.

Alongside practical and academic learning, the Scheme provides apprentices with pastoral support and we make sure every apprentice is equipped with the skills, knowledge and confidence to take their first solo steps into the world of work. As well as securing freelance work at the Royal Opera House, our apprentices have gone on to work in organizations across the cultural industries, including the National TheatreRoyal Shakespeare Company, the Young Vic and the BBC.

The Derek Butler Trust’s generosity has enabled us to create much-needed training opportunities for future generations of backstage talent, who go on to become a valuable part of the wider cultural and creative industries.

Erin Hills, who recently completed an apprenticeship in Wigs and Make-Up, says, ‘I’ve honestly had the most incredible two years. I am so thankful to have had this opportunity. It’s a fantastic Scheme that really changes lives and helps people break into the career they dream of.’

If your Trust or Foundation would like to become involved in supporting the work of the Royal Opera House, please call us on +44 (0)20 7212 9369 or email