Last year when I wrote about our 2021 closing announcement, I blogged about an inevitable conclusion to a cut in government funding, Brexit, and a global pandemic. I wrote about feeling that I’d been desperately trying to steer an out-of-control juggernaut, but I simply couldn’t stop it from driving off the road. Then after we had been “saved” I noted how much easier it had been to steer us back to the main road with so many people helping me to hold the wheel.
I was sad last year but I had managed to process a lot of my grief by the time the closing announcement had been made. The “save” came out of the blue, and to be honest it took me a few months to get back into the swing of things. However, by the time we started our new academic year in Oct 2021 I’d recalibrated myself and dared to look forward to what might be achieved. When Trinity announced their criteria change things took a really up-beat turn as finally there was a path to a more certain future.
For those that weren’t aware of last year’s closure we announced that we were done for, the graduates and students campaigned for us to be ‘saved’, and a few benefactors made themselves known to us offering to fund the shortfall to get us through the year, and a crowdfunding campaign raised awareness for the college as well as funds.
To be clear we literally only agreed to continue the college as we were sure (after due diligence) that we had secured £250K – the amount that we had stated that we needed to run for a full year. If we had been in any doubt at all that the people & organisations that had reached out to us offering help were not able to fulfil that obligation we would not have continued. Whilst we hadn’t wanted it to end, we were at a good place to finish. We had money in the bank to ensure that it was a good ending. It was a “peaceful” end with as much integrity as we could muster.
I felt physically sick when we were suddenly told that some of that income was not going to be realised. To say that I was blindsided was an understatement, to say that I had feelings about the fact that this revelation had not been made sooner would also be an understatement. Circumstances change of course, but a simple communication around that fact would have bought us time to regroup or budget differently.
However, all was not lost. . . there was still hope as we were in the middle of our Trinity validation process. Getting validated would open up a whole new funding stream which would finally allow our students to have financial help from the government. Step forward Trinity. . .
The Trinity validation process started off exceptionally well, we’d applied within weeks of the criteria change, the pre-validation visit was booked in nice and early, the glowing verbal report on the day and the talk around how optimistic we could be about being fully validated by July gave me a renewed energy and focus. Our applications were back up to pre-pandemic levels and, we were beginning to curate a brilliant cohort due to start training with us in Oct 2022. The students in training were storming it day after day with our class of 2022 one by one securing agent representation. I had a zoom meeting with the 2 Trinity assessors in early March when they told me their recommendations and helped me to think about how we could implement them easily (as the recommendations were all around the paperwork stuff). I made the changes by the next day and was told to expect the report the w/c 14th March. On March 15th I was told there was a slight delay because covid had struck and the person needing to check the report was off work. When I chased the report a week later I was sadly informed by an out-of-office email that our main assessor was now off ill too. As the days turned to weeks and into months and the assessor was still off I contacted Trinity to ask if somebody else could look at the report as it was all but finished.
I won’t bore with you the details of the sorry saga but the report finally arrived 4 months later, or as I like to count it . . . 15 emails later. 15 emails chasing the report, finding out along the way that crucial information had not been shared (as our main assessor was off sick and they didn’t have access to the numerous emails exchanges which included links to videos, submissions of recommendations) and re-sharing them with the relevant Trinity department.
Eventually, I had a meeting booked for 4pm on 12th July to go through the report. On asking to see the report prior to the meeting I was sent it at 3pm on 12th July! Once again I’m going to skip through details here. . . but trust me when I say that they’re all horrific as the bottom line was – we were attempting to be validated for the Trinity Level 6 Diploma in Musical Theatre, with the majority of our students going to elect to major in acting – yet the report barely had anything in it about singing and acting – it was pretty much all about the dance, plus I should add littered with inaccuracies and contradictions, to be precise 6 pages of inaccuracies . . . and the report was only 9 pages long. Whilst classroom observations had been written up about our dance classes, it appears that there were no observations about the classes that our main assessor had observed on his own and no reference at all to the earlier recommendations that I had been told back in March, and no reference to all those changes having been implemented.
Here’s another thought that I’d just like to leave here too for people assessing/validating looking at screen work or archived recordings of shows for quality control. Some links on certain platforms trigger an email notification to the person who controls that account. So “if” you click, oh I don’t know (plucks figure from mid air) 6 links within an hour, and then the analytics show that you watched 100% of one show yet the next link was opened within 5 mins, and so on, it raises suspicions with the people that have paid for your time and the people that are relying on your diligence. Anyway. . .
We immediately complained to Trinity complete with some compelling evidence around our suspicions of them not having access to our main assessor’s notes, eventually, they got back to us only for them to try and dilute the complaint down to a don’t be bitter it didn’t work out for you kind of response. They kindly suggested that we simply waited for them to complete the report, after all, fact-checking was part of their due diligence. I strangely didn’t think that 6 pages of corrections and inaccuracies were evidence of due diligence, so now we have to wait as we embark on stages 2 and 3 of the Trinity complaints procedure, as an independent arbiter considers our case. With each stage taking 30 days that meant that the last lifeline had also disappeared. . . once again at a bitterly late hour.
Right now our focus is on helping our first years (and the newbies if they want it) to find new places to train, and on getting the class of 2022 through the finishing line and onto graduation.
People who have worked with me for years know how fastidious I am about paying people and companies promptly so both the showcase and the graduation were already paid for before the horrors of the past few weeks unravelled – so the college community will have some “closure”
Finding myself for the 2nd time in 13 months speaking to my students & my graduates having to say that we were closing (again) was truly horrible. Like last year though what struck me was the kindness. One of our main priorities now is obviously our 6 first years – who were almost instantaneously invited to join the graduating year for their showcase. So that’s what we’ll do. The final showcase will now feature our 15 graduates and our 6 first years. Once again the “community” of the college will win with kindness.
It was an extraordinary 14 years for a tiny college. We helped to change the narrative around mental health and mental illness, we proved that an accelerated learning course was possible, we kick-started 207 careers, 100% of our students graduated having secured an independent agent, we were the first Musical Theatre college to do a 50/50 stage/screen split, we remain the only college to have been named as The Stage “School of the Year” twice, we always attempted to put student (and staff) welfare first, we actively supported new writing and new writers throughout our history, and we’ve called out every bit of bullsh*t that we’ve encountered along the way. I now proudly label myself a disruptor, albeit an accidental one.
As a member of the Board said to me this week – I started the college to be the antithesis of the establishment, I kept calling out for regulation, I was adamant that results should lead to funding, and I was eventually brought down by a regulatory body who were the gatekeepers to the funding stream. . . isn’t it ironic? To add to the irony, regular readers of this blog know how much I despair with people that don’t reply to emails in a timely fashion. . . another bitter irony to add to the pile.
As for me. . . I need to process the last few weeks, most definitely work through the anger & disappointment I feel about how we ended up finishing, and then think about what comes next.