If there was ever a simple slogan for capturing the zeitgeist of resilient businesses in 2020, it belongs to Milton Keynes theatre school boss Rebecca Carrington
“I thrive in a crisis. I believe when there is a problem, there is also a solution,” she said. Rebecca was on maternity leave with her then five month old, first born child when Covid struck. As the country teetered on the brink of a national lockdown, Rebecca’s fierce instinct to safeguard her 500-plus team of students and teachers led to the immediate temporary closure of Arts1 School of Performance, an independent theatre school. “We had a responsibility not to take risks. It was about protecting the quality and integrity of what we do and the security of our families.
”Despite gaining much-needed rates relief, tough decisions followed. The business – which Rebecca runs alongside her creative director husband James – had to furlough and lay off staff. But the pair invested £10,000 in new equipment and training to launch virtual classes and to give their students continuity. “Our numbers sunk significantly but the aim was sustainability, not profit,”said Rebecca. The pair slashed their tuition fees and – with the help of generous parents – created a hardship fund for struggling families. “We were aware that people were losing their jobs. We wanted to keep the community together.”An online virtual forum was created offering youngsters the chance to connect with their peers and teachers out of the classroom during lockdown. This was followed by an online summer graduation ceremony to maintain the spirit of celebration.
Today, the business continues to offer evening and weekend theatre and dance classes for kids and adults; a full time, 6th form with specialisms in acting, musical theatre and dance and a professional agency that places the best talent in jobs from West End shows to TV work. With smaller, socially distanced classes, rotating timetables and live streaming sessions still taking place, Rebecca hopes to host more performances and expand her studio space at Milton Keynes Business Centre.“Our studio is light, airy and has high ceilings,” she says. “It’s nice to be able to connect with other businesses here too.”
Looking back over the year, Rebecca says she owes a debt of gratitude to the ‘resilience’ of her teachers, students and parents.“We have a dedicated, diverse team of people. Our ethos is about nurturing passion and potential, and creating confident, lovely people.