Supported by the charitable work of the BRIT Trust, the BRIT School is marking its opening in South London three decades ago this month. Here, principal Stuart Worden reflects on his journey with the school and the opportunities that lie ahead...
When Anne Rumney became the first Principal of The BRIT School in September 1991, she couldn’t have envisaged the life of her successor thirty years later.
Take for example, at the end of August this year, I was at the Windmill in Brixton watching Black Midi rip the roof off that legendary venue; then hearing from a former lighting design student who had just been given an Associate role in one of the biggest theatrical design companies in the country. A gang of BRIT students and staff went to Cinderella in the West End courtesy of our really good relationship with the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation to cheer on former Musical Theatre student Caleb Roberts as Prince Charming. Later I heard from photographer (and alum) Alex Piper who is currently working with Idris Elba and Stormzy – and we hear positive reports of Olivia Dean, Gracey, Georgia, Jade Bird having great festival gigs.
It would be fair to say that each day has a moment of genuine pride and heartwarming news of an alumni success story. Thirty years into this journey, and over 10,000 lives later, we should all be celebrating the great idea the UK record industry had back at the start of the ’90s, to bravely set up a free arts school, named after their major show The BRIT Awards, in a run-down part of South London.
Why? Simply because it has become this beacon of creativity, a triumph of economic success and an essential part of the talent pipeline across all areas of the arts in the UK.
I’ve been at the school for 27 of its 30 years. I came to the school as an inexperienced theatre and film teacher who had worked in industry as a producer, writer and director. The BRIT School back in 1994 was bold; a bit wild, a bit queer and no one really knew who we were. Now in 2021 we remain bold, a bit wild, a bit queer and now the world is beginning to know us. We are successful because the school is free. It is the most important thing about The BRIT School. No one pays to come here and when arts education is free, everything becomes possible. That the Arts Council gave BRIT over £250,000 in recognition of our contribution to UK culture speaks volumes.
We should all be celebrating the great idea the UK record industry had back at the start of the ’90s
At the centre of the school is adventure and kindness. We give students the educational playground with guidance and rules to experiment and try and explore and have adventures. And a culture of kindness matters. We all know that artists are fragile and students in particular need to feel that someone is there for them, encouraging them, listening to them, allowing them to fail from time to time and guiding them to be creative and dream big.
Another major reason the school has delivered is the ever present support from the industry. This school belongs to the music industry. The BRIT Trust has given us huge financial support over the years which means the BRIT School continues to have the best resources - up-to-date equipped theatres and studios where students can play, learn and explore. The names they carry – Maurice Oberstein, Sir George Martin, Nile Rodgers – speaks volumes for our heritage.
And, as we grow, other parts of the creative industry have likewise grown to fall in love with us and support us – Netflix, YouTube Music, Apple, Raindog Films to name a few. Theatres in London frequently offer deals and job opportunities for our students, art galleries are keen to exhibit our students work, digital big hitters such as Apple and Google have come on board The BRIT School and they feel proud and excited to be associated with us –The Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) now support our emerging artists with a prize and sponsorship of our student’s creative showcase BRIT Now.
At the heart of the school lies a sense of ‘community’. Not just BRIT’s – but a broader societal community. No other school has a course like the radical and powerful Community Arts Practice, introduced as one of our nine strands in 2012 where young pioneers are trained to take the arts into the local community. They run workshops at our local Dementia centre, run music and dance classes for our local hub for adults with learning difficulties, create theatre for neighbouring primary schools so they can be introduced to the wonder and beauty of the arts at an early age. Being community-focused has made all the difference to the culture of the school and its impact on both our students and the thousands of people we work with each year.
The school has always worked hard on the significance of well-being and challenges around mental health. Former student Loyle Carner built us a peace garden for meditation and relaxation with support from Timberland, we increased our counsellor support, and thanks go to Sony Music’s Jason Iley, we worked with Music Support and collaborated with Young Minds and CALM. During Covid the parents paid for a new initiative called BRIT Fit that saw daily online fitness and wellbeing classes.
When I first started at this school in 1994 among the chaos and noise and energy was a feeling of optimism. Reasons to be hopeful in 2021? Here’s a few. Inspired by the #MeToo movement, a group of students set up an all-female artist and activist group called BRIT Venus. They have run workshops on self-defence, periods and female artists. Universal’s Jo Charrington is now mentoring them as they create an all-female production company for new theatre, film and music.
We have established BRIT Kids + online so you can do BRIT School lessons from anywhere, we are setting up a new fashion course in Autumn 2021 and BRIT Earth - a student driven movement - will explore the climate crisis. This gives us all hope and hope that I trust you share.
My successor’s diary in August 2051 is going to be full and interesting.