Bristol Old Vic

The Bristol Old Vic ran a week-long work experience programme for up to 25 14 to 15-year-olds from schools across the city. Many of the young people who took part lived in areas that struggle to access culture at any level, and some hadn’t even been into the part of the city centre where the theatre, and therefore the main cultural activity, is based.

“I think work experience kind of scared us quite a lot. We thought completely about the traditional setting and thought that we were going to have young people in the building next to us all the time and trying to find jobs for them to do all the time. It could feel quite intimidating.” Hattie De Santis – Engagement Coordinator

Hattie says this is the first time that the Bristol Old Vic has felt able to open its doors to the generation that will be its future workforce: “We got lots and lots of requests for work experience but just didn’t have the capacity or the resources to run anything for anyone that would make it worth their while.”

The Bristol Old Vic ran a week-long work experience programme for up to 25 14 to 15-year-olds from schools across the city. Many of the young people who took part lived in areas that struggle to access culture at any level, and some hadn’t even been into the part of the city centre where the theatre, and therefore the main cultural activity, is based.

Hattie explains schools provision of culture doesn’t seem to be a priority, with English teachers often covering for a professional drama teacher: “It’s not high up on the agenda for the curriculum at the moment. It’s definitely the maths and sciences and more academic routes that are taking priority.

“Which is why it is so important for us to do this work experience and make sure that there are opportunities and way in. To give people the idea that you can work in the arts. It is do-able and that option is there.”

The work experience programme at the theatre was an intense week that gave the teenagers practical experience in the various departments that make up the Company. This was also key to making it work with colleagues: 

“Knowing that you could do a model that is more like a quick intensive work experience week was really useful. Other departments took about an hour from their week to come and talk to a group of young people about their job, and how they can get in to it. Instead of having someone with them for a day or a bit longer.”

Hattie says it was a varied week that finished with all the students getting a real qualification: “They would get different masterclasses in the different areas or departments of the building. Directing, acting and stage management, producing, box office, front of house and how to be an usher.

“We also used Arts Award alongside the work experience as well, to create a bit more of a structure for the placements. They all completed a Bronze Arts Award as part of the programme. Which was brilliant. That worked really well as a model. It was lovely for them to come out with a qualification, as well as this weeks’ worth of work experience.”

The outcome was very positive with many now actively seeking a career in the arts. Something that may have been an impossible dream before: “I know a lot of them want to try and apply for usher jobs when they are 16.” Many have also joined the Theatre’s Young Company.

Hattie says the help and support from the network has helped make this pilot a success for them: “RIO has been fantastic. Setting up this group has been a massive support. It’s comforting to know that there are people that we can talk to if we feel a bit stuck or just as a sounding board as well.

“It’s really useful to talk to someone who’s not working in the organisation to just go over any plans is very useful.”

Hattie says Bristol Old Vic are now on a roll, with the next planned work experience week planned for July 2019: “It’s brilliant. Hopefully it’s going to start to diversify the workforce as well. If we can try to keep these connections it will be fantastic for the organisation. If we can keep going – which we definitely will.”

“Having this big group of young people from different areas of Bristol has been fantastic. It just meant we can engage with so many more different, diverse people from the city. It means a lot to us as an organisation. That we can definitely open the doors and welcome people in.”