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NEWS: Young people across Sunderland to take part in National Theatre’s Speak Up Programme


Young people across Sunderland to take part in National Theatre’s Speak Up Programme in partnership with Sunderland Empire & Sunderland Culture  

 New creative programme delivered for free across Sunderland with Sunderland Empire and Sunderland Culture

Young people, teachers and artists to collaborate in 5 secondary schools in Sunderland with Creative Associates LUNG  


Following a successful pilot phase that began in Autumn 2021, the National Theatre’s Speak Up programme will work with young people in 5 secondary schools in Sunderland 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.  

Speak Up is taking place in selected schools across Sunderland in partnership with Sunderland Empire and Sunderland Culture as part of the national programme which is also being delivered in Doncaster, Greater Manchester, Hornchurch, Wakefield and Wolverhampton with the project extending into additional areas in 2023. 

As part of the pilot with Oxclose Community Academy and Beacon Of Light School across Sunderland, 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. So far this has included, Rap, Video Production, Animation, Songwriting, Comedy, typography and much more! 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. 

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 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.  

Anthony Hope, Senior Creative Learning Manager at Sunderland Empire said; “Speak Up is such an incredible and much needed programme that truly celebrates what young people have to say in an authentic way supported by the power of creativity. The need for young people to be given the experiences and tools to express themselves creatively is needed more than ever, as the decline in arts subjects in our schools becomes more prevalent. We still have a great number of teachers in Sunderland who continue to celebrate the power the arts can have on their pupils and are committed to joining us on this 3-year journey. We can’t wait to share what the young people in our city have to say – watch this space!”  

Rachel Hamer, Young People and Communities Producer, Sunderland Culture said: “Sunderland Culture is delighted to be partnering with the Sunderland Empire on such an exciting project that empowers and inspires young people through a variety of artforms including performance.”

Amanda Parkes, Head Teacher at Oxclose Community Academy said: “This unique opportunity has allowed pupils to be part of the creative process, work with peers and introduce them to a wealth of professional expertise. In doing so the children have blossomed and learned so much about themselves and the opportunities the arts offer them - and, more importantly, how valuable their voice and place is in this world. 

Speak Up has reignited a love for group creativity that Covid decimated. Whenever I go to visit the groups, their energy and engagement is electric. One of the most magical memories I will have of Speak Up is seeing the confidence grow in some of our most vulnerable learners who struggle with "normal" academic life; they have embraced the experience with both arms.” 

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".  

Photos from NT at Oxclose Academy: Colin Davison

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