Celebrating 20 Years of Big School

Posted on 27 June 2018

While the Belgrade Theatre celebrates its 60th birthday in 2018, one of its pioneering community and education projects is also observing a big anniversary this year, with Big School marking 20 years since it was launched in 1998.

Delivered in partnership with the local education authority, the Big School project brings live performance into primary schools across Coventry and Warwickshire, with a view to giving Year 6 children the confidence to handle the transition up to secondary school.

Each year, a new, interactive production created in-house by Belgrade staff explores the challenges children face when moving from being part of the oldest year group in a school, to being the youngest in a large and unfamiliar setting, with new teachers, new friends, new subjects and a daunting new building to navigate.

By inviting participants to be part of the story and guide the characters through the difficulties they face, the performers create an open space for children to discuss and work through their concerns.

Big School

Set in a secret den, this year’s show, Room to Grow, followed a Year 6 boy called Mo, who is worried about leaving behind his best friend Ash who is still in Year 5. Both the characters are also faced with challenging personal circumstances, with Mo missing his dad who is working abroad, and Ash worried about the arrival of her new baby brother.

The show was delivered to 1,232 children in 26 schools, including Wyken Croft in Coventry, where pupils expressed their appreciation for the piece.

“We found the play very inspirational and helpful because it talks about how to go through secondary school, especially if you’ve got younger friends,” said one participant. “I really liked that it was interactive and I think it cures your worries too.”

“I felt that the parts where we were split into groups to discuss the story, that was really helpful because we could say what we actually thought,” another added.

Big School

“I could see why Mo would be sad about leaving Ash behind, but it was okay because Ash is a really good friend to him by supporting him and sellotaping his comic back together and just having a laugh with him,” said a third.

The Big School project continues the groundbreaking work of the Belgrade’s Theatre in Education scheme, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2015. Since 1965, trailblazing actor-teachers from the Belgrade have been touring local schools to perform short piece of theatre and lead workshops allowing students to creatively explore important issues and ideas.

Big School performer and co-creator Leon Philips said: “The Big School programme is a really important part of our work at the Belgrade, as it gives young people a chance to voice their opinions and say what they need to say in a way that they are often unused to. It is sharing their thoughts, fears and ideas and the space they are given to do so that allows them to feel empowered and important.”

Big School

Big School is generously supported by 29th May 1961 Charitable Trust.
As a registered charity, the Belgrade is reliant on funding from corporate partners, members, audiences and more to continue its work with young people in the community. Find out more about how you can help support projects like Big School here.