Why the Roundhouse is more than just a rock venue

Jack Rooke

jack 300x225 Why the Roundhouse is more than just a rock venue

(Copyright: Peter Schiazza)

Youth ambassador, radio presenter and stand-up poet Jack Rooke explores the benefits of an alternative skills-based education at one of London’s premiere performing arts venues – the Roundhouse.

Fresher season is still upon us. Legions of loan-rich, smiley young people flocking to their increasingly expensive universities to begin a course promising them employability and access to their dream career.

I’ve just started my second year of a journalism degree and was blessed with a scholarship to pay for my tuition fees. Before finding out financial help existed, I was all ready to be a post A-level stay-at-home son, with a stay-at-home mum watching Loose Women and eating Monster Munch. After my dad passed away when I was 15, I thought university was out of the question. We just couldn’t afford it.

It turns out I wasn’t alone. A poll published last week by the Sutton Trust has found four in five 11 to 16-year-olds aspire to enter higher education. As fees have increased threefold, those children from single parent families are nearly three times as likely to say their family can’t afford for them to become a student as those from two-parent families. My personal worry was that without my dad’s income, I’d struggle to pay the expensive costs involved in higher education, and would probably not secure a decent job.

X Factor sob story over, I realised that there were other ways to pursue my dream career as a journalist. Whilst school friends were choosing between Manchester or Leicester, engaging in lengthy debates about whether or not an en-suite bathroom was an essential, I was out there emailing editors, pestering newspapers and sending Facebook messages to writers I found funny.

Eventually, aged 16 I blagged some work experience in the media and artist liaison department of Bestival, through festival curator and Radio 1 DJ Rob Da Bank. I took two pieces of wisdom from this experience. One was never to set up a tent next to a group branding themselves ‘The Kings of Ketamine’.  The other was to check out the opportunities on offer at the Roundhouse, which was warmly recommended to me by Da Bank himself .

Before he mentioned it, I thought the Roundhouse was just a rock venue. But I soon discovered that beneath the venue’s iconic main space is a suite of 21 professionally-equipped creative studios. There is a state-of-the-art creative hub that each year provides about 3,000 11 to 25-year-olds with opportunities to develop skills in music, creative media and performing arts through masterclasses, term time and holiday projects.

I soon signed up to a project through the Roundhouse website and two weeks later I was involved in the Multimedia Journalism course, giving me the opportunity to write for the in-house publication Redtop Magazine. It cost £20 for a term of weekly evening sessions, taught by professional, working journalists at industry-standard facilities. I had access to the Bloomberg TV editing suite, the EMI recording studio and the hugely successful in-house radio station: Roundhouse Radio – all under one roof. And, without exaggeration, spending 10 weeks of an alternative skills-based education at the Roundhouse taught me more practical skills and industry employment tips than the whole first year of my degree.

Eventually, I realised radio was the area I wanted to go into and that Roundhouse Radio was the place to do it. One of the great things about the station is the strength of its links to the industry. In fact, it’s beginning to be viewed as something of a training ground for new radio talent, with a significant proportion of its alumni finding employment with major broadcasters such as BBC Radio 1, 1Xtra, XFM and some of the industry’s best production companies. As a result of the station’s connections and reputation, I was able to benefit from mentoring provided by industry-recognised radio professionals who had all started out at the Roundhouse.

Soon enough, I was offered a platform to develop my skills and I helped to launch the Redtop Arts and Culture show, which I will become editor of next month. This summer I’ve been broadcasting live from a barge in Victoria Park, reporting on the London 2012 Olympic Games, interviewing influential east Londoners from BAFTA winner Adam Deacon to the real market traders in Stratford.

To ensure my alternative education wasn’t completely consumed by radio, I also joined the Roundhouse Poetry Collective, creating my own spoken word material under the guidance of celebrated poet Polarbear, working collaboratively with other poets and performing at the Edinburgh Fringe, Bestival and venues across the UK. With poetry, as with radio, there’s a real Roundhouse network, with the venue’s advocates numbering artists such as Kate Tempest and Inua Ellams. As Polarbear has said, it’s hard to have a conversation about spoken word today without the Roundhouse coming up.

Taking part in all of these projects has cost me, in total, less than £150 – a fraction of the current fee for a degree in the UK. This is made possible by the fact that the Roundhouse is a charitable organisation whose trading income is ploughed back into its young people’s programme. It is further supported by the generosity of other organisations and individuals through corporate sponsorship, donations and charitable grants.

Last week, as part of their 25-year anniversary celebrations, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation has gifted a £5 million endowment to the Roundhouse, providing crucial funding to ensure that its studios can continue to offer pioneering creative projects at minimal fees to young people. There is even a bursary scheme for those who might not have sufficient funds to pay for courses. Fittingly, the studios have now been renamed the Paul Hamlyn Roundhouse Studios.

I’ve found the Roundhouse to be a creative hub full of people my age who wanted to dip their toes in something that would help them develop a better future. It’s not solely about employment, either – for many it’s about harnessing a hidden potential that will be invaluable in all areas of their lives.

The Roundhouse is redefining the age-old myth that working in the creative industries is all about “who you know, not what you know”. It provides a perfect balance of both, allowing a wide range of young people to learn practical skills, make useful connections, and engage in something rewarding and enjoyable.

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  • steve

    I was at what I believe was the first ever show in the Roundhouse in 1967. I recall that there were still rail tracks in the place and maybe the odd locomotive. It was the Exploding Galaxy’s first performance, a hippy theatre project, artistically so-so, but way ahead of its time, since it included people with physical and social handicaps, and, as the name suggests, promoted the concept of Outreach long before the name existed. The music, incidentally, was played by Arthur Brown (‘Fire’) with a plaster cast on his leg. Ainsley Dunbar, the drummer, kept shouting at him gleefully, ‘dance, you ugly sod, dance!’ The audience, apart from a smattering of acid freaks and well-wishers, was composed of drama critics in bow ties! . . . Those were the days.

    Good old Roundhouse. I wish you well!

  • Jeremy Poynton

    Good stuff! My first experience of it was an all-nighter, with two sets each by the Airplane and the Doors. And many gigs after. I recall standing on the steps outside having gone out for a breath of fresh air, and chatting to Nick Mason of the Floyd – they too did all-nighters there. Lost count of the number of bands I saw there way back.

  • Jeremy Poynton

    “A poll published last week by the Sutton Trust has found four in five 11 to 16-year-olds aspire to enter higher education. As fees have increased threefold, those children from single parent families are nearly three times as likely to say their family can’t afford for them to become a student as those from two-parent families”

    1. That four in five want to go to Uni doesn’t mean they should. Those with a technical vocation will be wasting their time for starters

    2. One thing the MSM won’t tell you about tuition fees is that is now much cheaper for kids from poor families to pay for Uni than it was under Labour.

  • skyhacienda

    I was a regular at the Roundhouse after this show….the ambience was amazing – light shows with coloured oil between plates of glass fixed in front of projectors which were placed on top of speakers to mimic the rhythm. black and white felix the cat cartoons. Arthur Brown flying through the air with his cape on fire; the Doors with their indulgent drug-fuelled guitar improvisations, Eric Clapton looking like a dirty old man in his brown mac and flat cap…i could go on for ever!
    I loved that place so much I named our place in Bolivia after it.

  • skyhacienda

    Those WERE the days! So many great bands and none of that celeb rubbish….there were no dressing rooms so the bands just hung out with the audience.

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