Following a successful pilot phase that began in Autumn 2021, the National Theatre’s Speak Up programme will expand to work with nearly 140,000 young people in 55 secondary schools nationwide across the next three years.  

Speak Up is the NT’s new national programme which sees young people 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.  

National Theatre’s Speak Up Programme expands to work with 140,000 young people 
NT Speak Up session at Oxclose Academy, Sunderland. Photo: Colin Davison

Connor, 13, a pupil at Oxclose Academy, Sunderland said, “Speak Up has given me opportunities to work with lot of different types of artists. I have really enjoyed working practically and have grown in confidence when working as part of a group”.  

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 taking place in selected schools across Doncaster, Greater Manchester (Salford, Wigan, Rochdale), Havering, Sunderland, Wakefield and Wolverhampton, with the project extending into additional areas in 2023.

As part of the pilot with secondary schools across Wakefield, Sunderland and Greater Manchester, 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.

“Speak Up has reignited a love for group creativity that Covid decimated,” said Amanda Parkes, Head of School at Oxclose Academy, Sunderland. “Through taking part in Speak Up, our students have blossomed and learned so much about themselves and opportunities the arts offer them – and, more importantly, how valuable their voice and place in this world is. Their energy and engagement are electric and pupils have stepped up to the challenge, taken risks and found their voice.”  

Sessions have included creating a mural around the theme of equality and exploring storytelling methods through a variety of artforms such as film making, animation and stand-up comedy. 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. 

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