Could you first introduce yourself to the reader?
Hello I’m Stuart and I am the Head of Participation at Jacksons Lane, a theatre in North London. I’ve been in my role for six years
What does your job involve? Give us the typical outline of a day?
My role is to develop and look after all the outreach and community work that we do. Our department works with everyone aged 6 to people in their 90’s using circus, drama, forum theatre, social activities, dance, musical theatre and even gardening! We work with schools, community centres, local council, supported housing, sports centres and heritage sites. We tackle subjects that may be challenging the community currently like isolation, obesity, mental health and domestic violence and use arts to help partners achieve their goals and benefit the community. Current examples include our forum theatre project Women Rise empowering older women around domestic violence issues and our JL Circus project which works with community spaces across Tottenham and Wood Green to deliver free circus workshops to isolated young people.
A typical day for me is very varied; it may start with a meeting with a potential partner to discuss a project that may be way in the future, writing a funding application or doing a report for a funder, having meetings with our team to address any issues or find out where they may need support then going to see a project performance by a group of young people. My role is quite strategic revolving a lot around developing partnerships and making something happen from them that benefits people.
What’s great about your job?
That’s easy. When we’ve been successful in a funding application often you have an idea of what the project you are creating might look like. However most often our talented project managers, coordinators, facilitators and volunteers will make it even better and the wonderful thing is seeing the results maybe a year or so later and being wowed by the difference our team makes to people’s live. A example is JL Circus: when I first submitted the funding application to Children In Need I thought it would be lovely if after 3 years we had some young people who could juggle. Cut to 5 years later and we have young people in Haringey who had never done circus doing acro-balance, hula hooping, parkor and walking around on stilts. Added to that they have created a youth board, run their own AGM, gained Arts Award and gone on to extra training at the Roundhouse and National Centre for Circus Arts. Our whole team at Jacksons Lane is amazing and seeing the results of what they do is a pleasure.
Also I love the fact I get to talk to everyone from volunteers like Walton who plays and sings on our projects, inspiring young people such as our NT Connections group who have just been chosen to perform at the National, Gina and Koula who run the cafés that provides food for our projects, partner organisations like Haringey Shed and Homes for Haringey, teachers, head teachers, parents – the list goes on! It’s a very people focused role!
What are the bits you don’t like or find challenging?
I think the uncreative bits like budgets and GDPR! However they are very important so I try not to forget them.
Sometimes I am juggling so many things it can be a bit overwhelming. If you are the kind of person who likes working on just one thing in a very focused way then my role is very likely not for you.
What are the highlights of your career to date?
I think looking back at Jacksons Lane and seeing where we have come after 6 years. My role was to start the outreach work from scratch and I’m really proud of what everybody who has contributed to our department has achieved.
Also I’m really not very academic. I have not got a degree, my A Level results are rubbish and my GCSE’s are very average. Somehow I’ve learnt as I have gone along.
How did you get into an arts job? Have you also worked outside the arts?
Wow! Long story but to cut it short I started as a performer graduating from Mountview. I did lots of fun things: musicals like Aspects of Love, Carousel and two years on Annie where I got to work with Paul O Grady as Lily Savage playing Miss Haniggan! I sang in Ibiza for six months and did lots of pantos with fun people like soap stars, ex Buck Fizz stars and even a Gladiator!
I always enjoyed teaching and then around the time my Mum died from cancer life took me to teaching and working with young people. I worked with a group of under achieving boys in an Essex school and suddenly I found where my real passion was, where I could really make a difference and be creative.
From there a role at the Blue Elephant Theatre came up which got me into outreach and there you go.
Yes I’ve done other jobs- worked in Library, cash and wrap at WH Smiths and a street charity fundraiser (However that was very creative, stopping people on the streets and asking them for money and their bank details took a lot. I have some very funny memories of that though!)
Can you describe your biggest challenge so far in your career? How did you overcome it?
Yes, in 2009 there was a real funding crisis in the arts and my role at the Blue Elephant Theatre along with others too was a risk. I had never written a funding application or had to think about strategy. However I had just in the last few years made a serious transition from performer to outreach so I was determined not to go down without a fight. I remember being at a meeting with lots of charity sector workers funded by local authority who were also at risk. At the meeting was a representative from the Community Southwark the umbrella body for the community and voluntary sector. The meeting was very angry and depressing. At the end of the meeting the Community Southwark rep offered help and spoke about her organisation. Everyone else walked out but I thought “why not” and I exchanged contacts with her. When we met she gave me two hours on the basics of funding applications and strategy. From there I used what I had learnt from her and basically raised money that got us through. Blue Elephant thrives to this day.
It taught me something I try to always remember when working with people- Don’t go with everyone else’s opinion just because it is the majority. Trust your instinct. That two hours changed my career.
Have you noticed any changes in the industry? If so, what?
Yes it is a lot more serious. I think part of that is because funding is so much harder to come by. There are also now courses for what we do too, which means competition for jobs is harder especially for young people starting out. We have a wonderful work placement every year from a degree course. They are always very intelligent, hard working and care so much about what they do. The one thing I always say to them though is don’t forget to have fun and be human. It’s so important because when you are recruiting for outreach and participation work it is the whole person you hire and you want them to be able to get on with people.
You’ve been granted the ability to send a message to 16-year-old you. What do you say?
It’s fine to be who you are and move to London sooner.
Do you have any advice for young people interested in doing your kind of job?
Volunteer on projects at your local theatre and get involved. Be a participant too- don’t always be on the outside looking in and analysing. Immerse yourself in the work so you know what being a participant feels like.
When going for jobs always highlight your administrative skills as well as your creative. In jobs nowadays you have to be the imaginative creator and the great organiser.
Want more tips on working in the arts? Head on over to Creative Choices, a website filled to the brim with advice on how to get into the arts.