Jumped Up Theatre’s Kate Hall explores the city’s cultural landscapes
What is your earliest memory of going to the theatre, a concert, museum or art gallery? Chances are they are happy memories.
Maybe you remember going to a pantomime, laughing at your Dad doing the actions in the sing-a-long? Or was it your first concert, dancing with your friends, belting out your idol’s anthems in a sweaty stadium, a muddy festival or in the backroom of a pub? Can you remember your first trip to a museum or art gallery? They are more child-friendly nowadays, less dusty stuffed animals behind glass, and more hands-on experiences, Peterborough City Museum being a good example.
Or maybe you were the artist – discovering the joy of paint, clay and charcoal, singing in a choir or in your bedroom? Do you still recount the glories of the Battle of the Bands or the school musical? These experiences shape your taste for arts and culture as an adult, and influence your wider life-experience and aspirations. So what opportunities are the children of Peterborough having today?
To start them young the enthusiasm of parents is essential. Piccolo, the monthly pre-schoolers concert at St John’s Church in Cathedral Square, showcases professional musicians who adapt their performances for under 5’s, making the event interactive for the youngest of music lovers. The repertoire is very varied, from folk and classical to a concert band playing carols, all a welcome break from singing The Wheels On The Bus.
Some get a taste for dance as preschoolers. It’s not just cute kids in tutus, there are also classes for Mums & Babes (sorry dads!) and in street dance. These classes develop skills that get children ready for school — following instructions, listening to others, co-ordination and focus. Unfortunately the costs for these classes can be prohibitive for many, and whilst preschool settings can be creative, such as New Ark Playground, you can’t expect nursery workers to have the same skills as professional instructors.
Next up is schools, where creativity is important to teach students resilience, flexible thinking and the rewards of practice and perseverance. School shows and exhibitions strengthen the school community through team work and collective moments of celebration. With the curriculum’s current focus on rote learning and continuous assessment resources and capacity for supporting the arts is limited, often depending on parents to make contributions (or ‘Parent Tax’ as we call it in our house). At Primary level teachers trained in Maths and English are somehow also expected to be skilled arts practitioners as well. The challenge at Secondary level is that creative subjects can be misjudged as a soft choice, even though those are challenging subjects to get high grades in.
With school budgets under pressure and Peterborough schools struggling to lift the SATs results, despite good and outstanding teaching, it’s all credit to those schools who make an extra effort to cling onto creativity in the curriculum. Great examples I know of at Primary level include West Town Academy, where staff time is allocated to organising creative activities and learning through creativity. And at Fulbridge School the corridors are mini installations, themed around that term’s teaching – so when you ask how to find the staff room your directions may include ‘turn left at the suit of armour and it’s just after the drawbridge.’
If you want to know more about the impact creativity has on learning I recommend you watch Sir Ken Robinson’s 2006 Ted Talk ‘Do Schools Kill Creativity’, the most watched in TED’s history. Or follow Darren Henley, Chief Executive of Arts Council England, who on the launch of his most recent book wrote: ‘A world without creativity would see no original ideas; no new inventions or advances in science or medicine; no new products or services; no new music or art; no solutions to new problems’. These are skills that future generations will need, as automation replaces manpower and advances in technology are needed to solve global problems.
The Peterborough Music Hub is one citywide success story, and a great model for supporting access to the arts for all young people. It provides opportunities for music in schools, from instrumental lessons to city-wide singing projects, to large-scale concerts with young players performing alongside Britten Sinfonia. The Music Hub is funded by Arts Council England and managed locally by Peterborough City Council, in partnership with a number of local organisations. The opportunities are heavily subsidised or free.
As well as school activities the Music Hub also runs Peterborough Centre for Young Musicians in partnership with Ormiston Bushfield Academy and the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. This programme provides exceptional opportunities in tuition and performing. Previously young musicians with big ambitions would have had to travel to London for these experiences, which would present a huge challenge to even the most committed and affluent families.
If music isn’t your thing there are numerous opportunities to take part in drama and dance, many of whom perform at local venues – check out The Key, The Cresset and Stamford Arts Centre’s programmes to see what’s available. And sometimes our young people go further afield and represent Peterborough on a national stage – literally! Both Kindred’s Key Youth Theatre and UROCK Theatre Company have twice been selected from hundreds of youth theatres to perform at London’s National Theatre’s Connections programme—an exceptional achievement which gives the young people an experience they will never forget.
There are also smaller projects going on, under the radar but hugely important. I recently learnt about lyric writing, recording and production sessions for local young people at CSK Hampton, led by Xidus Pain from Beat This and members of the Romsey Mill. This highly focused project was setup to help tackle a spike in street-crime. It has been successful in giving young people a safe place to go, be productive, and think about their futures. This project needs further funding to continue, I hope it gets it soon, maybe to even expand across the city.
I would also love to see more young people go see professional shows and exhibitions, such as Lamphouse’s December production of Beauty & The Beast. Seeing great work by professionals is the best way for young people to understand what they are aiming for. It also opens minds to new worlds and big thinking, and creates the habit of a good night out which is an alternative to a boozy night on the tiles, though an appreciation of dance moves and highly-tuned karaoke skills can also be useful there too!
To grow new audiences the offer for young people needs to get better co-ordinated and, frankly, be more ambitious. There needs to be a programme that interests them — the current diet of tribute shows won’t inspire the Instagram generation. There are sometimes opportunities for young people that sit alongside the showstoppers, like the Museum of the Moon and the launch of the Gormleys, but it’s often the same groups who benefit. Events such as the Youth Jam and some of the cultural festivals do sometimes bring more young people together, but it all feels a bit patchy.
Moves are afoot to change this, largely by handing some control to young people. The Peterborough Presents programme supports a Young Producers’ scheme, PCVS has funding for improved youth-led youth provision, there has been a surge in students completing Arts Awards, and the Integrated Communities Fund is another opportunity to use creativity to develop community cohesion. Vivacity and the region’s Bridge organisation, NNF, have put funding into PHACE, an umbrella organisation to co-ordinate arts and culture for young people in the city. The hope is that PHACE will be building bridges between the artists of the city and the schools and community groups working with young people.
I’ll be keeping my eyes out for more opportunities for young artists and audiences. I know they are out there and they are as varied and diverse as the city, from amateur dramatics groups to street-art classes. But most of all let’s shout up for those experiences which can shape the minds and souls of our young people, getting them ready for the fast-paced, ambitious life we hope they have ahead of them. As the huge success of Tim Peake’s space capsule next to the Museum of the Moon has proven, the young generation want to be inspired by incredible experiences, they just need the city’s leadership to deliver them.
● Piccolo St John’s, Cathedral Square 10.30-11.30am – 1st Thurs of the month (not Jan or Aug) www.facebook.com/PiccoloAtStJohns/
● Peterborough Music Hub www.peterboroughmusichub.org.uk
● Key Youth Theatre, Kindred Drama kindreddrama.com
● UROCK Theatre Company Contact Di Goldsmith 07885250443
● Beat This – Community Music Workshops beatthis.org
● Lamphouse Theatre (Beauty & The Beast, Nov & Dec 2018) lamphousetheatre.co.uk