National Theatre’s Speak Up Programme expands to work with 140,000 young people

Following a successful pilot phase that began in Autumn 2021, the National Theatre’s Speak Up programme will expand to work with nearly 140,000 young people in 55 secondary schools nationwide across the next three years.

Speak Up is the NT’s new national programme which sees young people, who have been most affected by the pandemic, working in collaboration with local artists and teachers to co-create artistic responses to issues that are most important to them. Responding to the current challenges in schools, the programme aims to develop young people’s self-expression, wellbeing and personal skills, with an open-ended offer to make creative projects in their local area.

The NT is collaborating with LUNG as Creative Associates to deliver the training of artists and teachers and to develop the creative ambitions of Speak Up. LUNG is a campaign-led verbatim theatre company which works closely with communities nationally to shine a light on political, social and economic issues in modern Britain to ensure hidden voices are heard.

Speak Up is taking place in selected schools across Doncaster, Greater Manchester (Salford, Wigan, Rochdale), Havering, Sunderland, Wakefield and Wolverhampton, with the project extending into additional areas in 2023. The NT’s current Theatre Nation Partnership organisations are Cast in Doncaster, The Lowry in Salford, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, Sunderland Empire and Sunderland Culture, Theatre Royal Wakefield and Wolverhampton Grand Theatre.

As part of the pilot with secondary schools across Wakefield, Sunderland and Greater Manchester, students have taken part in a variety of creative sessions to empower them to tell their own stories and connect with each other and their local communities. Sessions have included creating a mural around the theme of equality and exploring storytelling methods through a variety of artforms such as film making, animation and stand-up comedy. Artists, partner organisations and young people have used the sessions to work collaboratively to design what Speak Up is going to look like for them in their schools for the next three years.

Speak Up is generously supported by the Mohn Westlake Foundation which shares the NT’s belief in the power of youth voice and working with young people to enable positive change in their lives, schools and local communities. Through a £3.3million grant to deliver the programme nationally, Speak Up will reach hundreds of thousands of students, with the majority of the funding distributed to partners enabling local employment of producers and artists.

Rufus Norris, Artistic Director of the National Theatre said, “Speak Up is a crucial part of the National Theatre’s work in levelling up, giving agency to young people nationwide whose voices often go unheard and that the Covid pandemic hit even harder. This innovative model will empower young people to share their views on current issues and put them at the heart of the creative process. We are excited to build on our in-depth relationships with our Theatre Nation partners across the country to deliver this new programme, guided by the creative vision of LUNG with invaluable funding from the Mohn Westlake Foundation. Together we will support young people to become leaders of the future and make positive change in their own lives and in their communities”.

Marit Mohn and Stian Westlake, Trustees and Founders of The Mohn Westlake Foundation said, ”We understand that the pandemic has created unprecedented levels of isolation and disenfranchisement for young people. We are delighted to be extending our partnership with the National Theatre to increase access to the arts in particularly hard-hit areas of the country. By investing in young people, our leaders of the future, Speak Up will put them at the heart of the creative process, empowering them to combat these challenges, and rediscover their voice.”

Amanda Parkes, Head of School at Oxclose Academy, Sunderland said, “Speak Up has reignited a love for group creativity that Covid decimated. Through taking part in Speak Up, our students have blossomed and learned so much about themselves and opportunities the arts offer them – and, more importantly, how valuable their voice and place in this world is. Their energy and engagement are electric and pupils have stepped up to the challenge, taken risks and found their voice.”

Connor, 13, pupil at Oxclose Academy, Sunderland said, “Speak Up has given me opportunities to work with lot of different types of artists. I have really enjoyed working practically and have grown in confidence when working as part of a group”.

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/speak-up

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