‘My Amazing Day at The BRIT School’ by DANNY JONES
A few weeks ago I had the absolute pleasure of visiting The BRIT School in Croydon, London. Whilst I definitely want to detail my day at the blossoming school and tell you about all the amazing people I met, I must first say this: THE SCHOOL IS FREE. Did you know that? I didn’t know that, I had no idea. My entire life I thought The BRIT School was a fancy school for the elite and wealthy who in addition to being financially blessed were also gifted with music, dance and visual and performing arts skills (lucky little rascals!). But I was all wrong. The first thing I learned when stepping foot into the school is that the educational home of Adele, Amy Winehouse, Marsha Ambrosius and Tom Holland is ABSOLUTELY FREE!
Entering the School
The first person who greets you when you enter the school’s towering atrium is Tina Williams. When I first met Tina I was elated by her joy and positive energy. You could tell she was one of the students’ favourites – an administrator that knew how to put her foot down when necessary, but also serve as a motherly figure for the students in times of need. With The BRIT School being a place with a primary purpose to provide opportunity for young people who want creativity to be a major part of their future, it is great to have such a person as Tina to make you, as a student, feel included in the school’s familial atmosphere the minute you step into school. I wish I had a Tina at my old school back in Bolton to welcome and nurture my eclectic artistic desires every time I entered school like The BRIT School students do, that’s for sure.
Meeting Principal Stuart Worden
After getting over my initial shock and awe at the beauty and energy of the school, I was greeted by my host, Alexa Cruickshank, The BRIT School’s Director of Communications. After getting a brief rundown on the history and dynamics of the school (including the fact that IT IS 100% FREE!), Alexa introduced me to Principal Stuart Worden.
As we walked through the halls of the school, I was shocked on how Stuart (that’s what the students call him as everyone in the school is on a first name basis) knew the name of every student we passed; all roughly 1,200 of them. Stuart’s mission at the school centres around his desire to ensure his students continuously contribute to the cultural wealth of the UK; something I definitely appreciated as that is also a mission of my own through my work with Speakers for Schools and The Voice Kids.
Our first stop with Stuart was to the current wall of alumni, which rotates frequently as it is updated often with all the stars the school has birthed. The wall currently has the photos of global superstars such as Jessie J and FKA Twigs; as well as current rising stars such as Loyle Carner and Raye. Stuart made it a point to stress that for every international star on that wall, there are tons of film makers, producers, games-makers, set-makers and community arts practitioners behind the scenes that bring those superstars to light and foster the UK arts community in general – whether it is for a star or an everyday citizen.
Visual Arts & Design Class
Traveling throughout the school with Stuart and Alexa, our first stop was to the Visual Arts & Design Class. I met a host of students who study traditional and contemporary techniques in visual arts, sculpture, drawing and painting. You should see some of these students’ work! Many were preparing for an upcoming fashion show that included their designs and clothing pieces created from their designs (selfishly I wish they were creating some album artwork for the next McFly project HA!). As I worked passed my mental distraction of all the creative ways I wanted to artistically collaborate with the students, I begin to have an in-depth, albeit brief, discussion with a few students and teachers to understand where the inspirations for the works come from and the paths the students typically took post-school. Needless to stay, everyone and every inspiration was completely different – it was exciting to see such a group of talented students ready to take on the future with little to no jadedness in their paths. Alexa, in an effort to keep us on schedule, told us it was time to continue to explore the school, so off we went.
Community Arts Practice
Our next stop was to a classroom being used for one of the school’s many Community Arts Practices. Listen to this, while many students want to go on and have blossoming superstar careers throughout the globe, many of those same students wish to discover how their skills can play more of a role than just on stage. The BRIT School’s Community Arts Practice affords the students these opportunities – it provides the students with the practical skills to enrich, inform and transform the lives of those in the community.
Talking to these students, their passions and the way they were helping different UK communities were just as varied as the students’ backgrounds. If that analogy means nothing to you yet, then let me tell you that 19% of The BRIT School students are on Free School Meals, 37% are from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds and the catchment area from where The BRIT School students come covers just about every postcode in Greater London. Stuart explained how some of the students were working with young offenders to use the arts to help deter future criminal activity, some students were working with those in the community with disabilities to help aid in those community members’ self-expression while some other students were using dance and visual art to work with the elderly and help them remain active. While I wanted to stay and continue to watch these students practice – Alexa was in my ear once again begrudgingly telling me that we had to keep the tour moving.
Interactive Digital Design Class
Our next stop was to Alison Pemberton’s Interactive Digital Design Class. I don’t know exactly how to explain this, but imagine if Steve Jobs was a super cool kid from South London who listened to Stormzy, Dua Lipa and Portugal. The Man and took the Tube to school every day; well the students in this class are THAT kid! It’s weird because you (meaning, me) build up in your head that a person who can do crazy design techniques on a computer program will be some homebody who doesn’t know what’s going on in the outside world – but this class shattered all my admittedly ill-informed preconceived stereotypes.
On a daily basis, Alison’s students are studying AND designing (yes, DESIGNING) computer games, web and graphic designs, motion graphics and 2D and 3D animation. In fact, and I hope I get this correct, Tim Cook, CEO of Apple recently stopped into The BRIT School to gift the school a heap of Apple technology, calling the school and Alison’s class in particular, “unique…a very special place” after highlighting that he has “never been to a school like [The BRIT School] anywhere in the world…” What I got from that statement is that Tim Cook saw The BRIT School as one of the most important assets for the world and technology’s future that must be fostered, nurtured and positioned to succeed. These students were designing future vehicles, digital newsletters, music videos and games. I was amazed at how advanced the future of technological design will be and how these students had their finger directly on the pulse of the future. I began to think once again about how I could possibly get these students involved in the next McFly project or the projects of some of the contestants on The Voice Kids. As you could imagine, at this point Alexa gave me the nudge; snapping me out of my daydreaming.
On Air at BRIT FM
As soon as Alexa was wrapping up the tour and Stuart and I began to go on a tangent about our favourite bands, we ran into two of the DJs who help keep The BRIT School’s radio station BRIT FM up and running smoothly, who were on their way to the radio studio. They asked if I wanted to check it out and of course I hastily said “yes”. BRIT FM is ran by Dr. Jon Preston who teaches the students in the school’s Film & Media Production programme the ins and outs of radio. The output is a high quality, interactive and super professional radio show – I felt like I was at Radio 1 or Capital FM all over again.
The show on the air when I walked into the studio was a Reggae show ran by Julie McAlpine aka Stush. Let me tell you something, when it comes to the boards and being the producer of a show, Stush can hold her own with the best of them. Before I knew it, Stush and her team had me behind the mic during their reggae set, giving shout-outs and getting interviewed on what I was doing at the school. It was truly a pleasure to have the opportunity to hang with Stush and her team. Although reggae is a bit out of what people would see as my typical genre, I ended my chat with Stush and her team by showing them that I was literally listening to a reggae mix I made, just by chance, 24 hours before entering BRIT FM. Hopefully I earned some points on that end – proving I’m not a total wasteman when it comes to Reggae – HA! Such a great day, experience and way to end my tour of The BRIT School!
Call to Action
I had no plans of leaving The BRIT School with a call to action. I literally just wanted to go to the birthplace of some of the UK’s biggest stars to see what was the magic in the water, how could I help spread that magic at other schools across the UK and what can I learn from the students — as they are the ones who really have their fingers on the pulse of the current energy of the arts. However, after spending the day at the school and truly experiencing the magic, I left with a two-fold call to action.
First, I am spreading the word to everyone I see that THE SCHOOL IS FREE. I cannot stress that enough. There are so many talented children throughout Greater London and the UK who could really use the nurturing of The BRIT School but whose parents automatically disqualify their children because they assume that they will not be able to afford the school. Well let me tell you, you can afford the school, because the school is FREE. So please, if you are reading this, please tell one person to tell one person that THE BRIT SCHOOL IS FREE.
Second, because The BRIT School is free it needs to be supported, nurtured and cared for by all of us. I said this once and I will say it again, we must support our musically-gifted kids. There are two ways you can support The BRIT School, you can either join as a BRIT Friend or a BRIT Partner; either one is proven to be extremely beneficial for the students. While BRIT Friends are typically individuals who pledge single or repeating gifts, BRIT Partners are typically entities that donate technology, space or master-class mentoring to the students. Regardless, whatever you have to offer to the students of The BRIT School will definitely help!
About Danny Jones
Danny Jones is best known for being one-quarter of the multiplatinum British pop rock group McFly, but the Bolton-born artist has also established himself as one of today’s premiere songwriters and producers. Jones’ genre-bending style incorporates elements of dance and hip-hop into the more traditional guitar-heavy pop rock sound that made him famous, and he has collaborated over the years with a wide range of artists that includes Busted, Taio Cruz, and One Direction, whose members credit McFly as a major influence in their development as artists. In 2017, Jones began to serve as a coach on the inaugural season of The Voice Kids UK, drawing on his versatile talents and years of experience in the music industry to help mentor a new generation of up-and-coming young artists while simultaneously serving as an ambassador for the Speakers for Schools charity.