Why working class youngsters can’t afford a career in London’s West End

Five teenagers lie on the wooden floor as the audience watches on in anticipation. What follows is a few minutes of talented improvisation as they explore the characters within. This is Young Actors Theatre in Angel, one of many hubs of young talent across the country where dreams of West End stardom are harnessed.

However, the performing arts class divide is clear, leaving many young actors and actresses with shattered dreams and small fortunes of debt on the hunt for success.

Theatre is a competitive business, often made up of low commissioned and poorly paid freelancers who will lack job and financial security.

Last year’s Acting Up report from the Labour Party has pushed for change, stating that the “culture of chronic low pay’ is forcing many people out of the industry.

A report from the House of Commons library showed that GCSE drama uptake has fallen by 15.9% since 2010 as youngsters are instead forced down academic routes with stable incomes.

Last year, arts funding in schools was cut again, with drama and the performing arts not making up part of the English Baccalaureate secondary school qualification and pushing children towards subjects such as the sciences.


Photo – Luke Chillingsworth. Taken on an iPhone

Lyn Gardner, theatre critic for The Guardian and The Stage, said: “As long as theatre and the performing arts end up being marginalised in schools then inevitably that means that lots of kids simply don’t have access to the performing arts and therefore they are very unlikely to even think about auditioning for drama school.

“I think it fundamentally goes back to primary school and what access people actually have in the arts. Participation is the answer and that has to be in schools and at the grassroots.”

Although participation is where the problem lies. Across London’s elite drama colleges, summer schools are pricey and often out of the finances of a working-class family.

The Guildhall School of Music and Drama offers a two-week summer school for 16 – 17-year-olds priced at £1250, with accommodation and food charged at an extra £756. When contacting the school, it was established that bursaries are available but only for those living in a London borough within distance to the school.

Furthermore, RADA’s young actors summer school is priced in the region of up to £1,800, with LAMDA’s Shakespeare school standing at £5,500 for tuition, and this is only a taster.

For acceptance into a drama school full-time, most will require an audition and interview that are charged anywhere between £50 to £80. Factor into account the cost of transport and accommodation for multiple colleges and families are faced with enormous costs before even starting anything in the industry.

The rising financial pressures on many youngsters in the profession has seen them turn to online petitions to try to evoke change.


Jamie-Leigh Currie, 20, an aspiring young actress, said: “The issue I have is that the system seems to be set up so that the rich are more able to access the opportunities that should be accessible to everyone.

“Why should we all have to pay a £50 fee just to audition for a drama school where there is a 90% chance that we won’t get in.

“I’m working as a waitress at the moment. The money I get from that job goes straight into my savings to pay for my auditions and accommodation and travel costs.”

There are even examples of colleges that do not accept UCAS funding, leaving many to take out career development loans which force applicants to pay back debts on a  monthly basis immediately upon completion of a course.

A membership to the leading casting agency, Spotlight, will set youngsters back £98 per year. While the creation of a professionally designed video showreel for use in a college application can cost upwards of £250.

Tom Stocks, head of campaign group Actor Awareness, said: “When your sort of going into the into the industry you’ve got to have your actor’s starter pack. You’ve got to pay for your headshots, you’ve got to pay for your showreel, you’ve got to pay for your Spotlight membership, your equity membership, you’ve got to pay for your drama school fees.

“All of those are just racking up and so if you’ve got money then obviously that’s quite easy to assemble.”


Photo – Luke Chillingsworth. Taken on an iPhone.

In 2016, a report from the Sutton Trust showed that 67% of British Oscar winners and 42% of British BAFTA winners came from fee-paying schools, despite only 7% of the population receiving a private education.

Less than a fifth of employees working in music and the performing arts are from a working-class background, compared to a national workforce of 35%.

Theatre as an industry is beginning to have the discussion about the class divide, with regular discussions and debates taking place at the National Theatre. But are they looking at things from the right angle?

Tom Stocks, said: “Go to rural places in the UK. [Directors] need to stop looking in the stereotypical places because if your only getting one type of person there that’s the only type of person that’s going to be in the industry.

“They need to expand and stop looking inside the same ten drama schools that all have the same ten mums and dads that all have the same demographic as well.

“It’s so much talk and no sort of action.”

Feature Image – Luke Chillingsworth. Taken on an iPhone. 

Video shot and edited on an iPhone.

London Air Pollution – Why the government must do more

Some 9,000 Londoners will needlessly lose their lives in 2017.

A killer is on the loose. Weaving its way through the darkened streets of Central London. Anyone is a target.You’d be forgiven for mistaking this as an opening line of a Sherlock Holmes investigation. Or a history book into the life of London’s most infamous murderer, Jack the Ripper. The culprit is in fact among us, day by day, an omnipresent force that is everywhere but cannot be seen.

London’s air pollution crisis is to blame, now at its worst level since the 1952 toxic fog disaster, and the lives and health of citizens across the capital are now at risk.

In an age of advancements with eco-friendly cars and machines, a Central London congestion charge, and a relatively efficient public transport system. It seems crazy to suggest that air quality is worse for Londoners now than it arguably ever has been.

With Particulate Matter (PM) at double the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines and air pollution exceeding that of smog-infested Beijing on 23rd January of this year, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan must act now to prevent serious harm or death to the civilians, workers and children inhabiting his city.

On average 9,000 lives are lost per year in the capital as a result of poor air quality, with PHE reporting 7.7% of deaths in Kensington and Chelsea are attributable to the quality of air in the surrounding area.

Figures like this are comparable to lives lost in the whole of the Ukraine Conflict and the 2015 Nepal earthquake. It is a figure that would equate to six Titanic sinkings, and is three times the figure of the lives lost in the worst terrorist attack on US soil on September 11th 2001. Two historic events which led to a dramatic change in perceptions and safety measures.

The 1956 Clean Air Act, introduced by Parliament after the 1952 smog crisis, led to the development of smoke control areas where only smokeless fuels could be burned. The act also pushed to relocate power stations away from cities and for chimney heights to be increased to push the smog away from Central London.

So why is the government and the Mayor of London doing so little to help Londoners with the modern-day crisis?

Khan has committed an extra £875 million to improving air quality over the next five years. He has also promised the introduction of a T-Charge from 23rd October from this year, a new scheme which will see vehicles that do not comply with safety measures receiving a fee on top of the current congestion charge, putting the price of driving on the capital’s roads at £21.50 per day.

The promise of a new Ultra Low Emission Zone in 2019 might seem like a nice touch by Khan, but with a small catchment area, what gains are really going to be felt? With pollution levels not set to drop below legal levels until 2025, Khan must look at the long-term legacy of his actions rather than ticking short-term inefficient boxes to fulfil his duty as Mayor.

Yes, it is vital to introduce short-term measures to prevent the European Court slapping the nation with a £300 million fine, but the bigger picture also needs to be considered.

With the capital breaching EU commission rules, what is the fate of the nation post-Brexit? With no-one to hold the government to account in dealing with the air pollution crisis, things could spiral out of control and above the already dangerous state in which it currently sits.

Khan must therefore put his efforts into securing the safety of Londoners beyond the trigger of Article 50 and Theresa May’s Brexit negotiations.

Instead, Khan has started weakly with minimal and inefficient gains. His refusal to ban diesel vehicles from the streets at the expense of an increased charge means that only inner city boroughs, around 300,000 people in total, will reap some sort of benefit from the new T-Charge; not the three million Londoners that will still be living in polluted and dangerous areas.


Smog-infested London as seen from Hackney. Credit – David Holt, Flickr Creative Commons

Furthermore, researchers at Kings College London found evidence to suggest that the introduction of Ken Livingstone’s Low Emission Zone in 2008 has had little to no effect on overall pollution levels, so surely Khan’s new schemes are not going to be tackling the problem head on either.

With 1,000 schools situated just 150 metres or less from busy, highly polluted main roads, as well as 438 schools directly located in areas which exceed legal pollution levels, the safety of the city’s children is now at risk. A dangerous prospect when considering that increased nitrogen levels do increase the risk of heart and lung diseases later in life.

But should we as a city really care about air quality? The answer is yes.

Experts may argue that the air is safe; the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) argue that between 1970 and 2015 there was a long-term decrease in UK emissions of all air pollutants. But this isn’t the point.

London is a thriving city, arguably the world’s capital and one which welcomes visitors from across the United Kingdom, Europe and the world on a daily basis. Although, it will be interesting to see how long that status can be retained if air quality cannot be kept to safer levels. People are being put off the city’s culture, charm and wonder because they no longer feel safe.

The tragic tale of how one student suffering from asthma had to give up on studying for her PHD in London illustrates how bad things have become. The quality of air in the capital is damaging people’s lives and must be stopped, and fast.

Feature Image – David Merrigan, Flickr Creative Commons

Addison – “You want to hook them in now and keep them for 30 or 40 years”

In an era of smartphones, instant video streaming and 4G internet connectivity almost anywhere around the world; sports broadcasting is at the fore-front of the new technology available. Sky Sports now offer viewers full 4K broadcasts of all Premier League games, while fans of Cricket and Tennis events are regularly treated to on-screen overlays with cutting-edge graphics and analysis from all angles of the game within minutes of a ball being played. With much of the footage available around the stadium for paying customers to enjoy.

It is therefore baffling to fans of motorsport that these technological revolutions have not been embraced by those at the forefront of the fastest show on earth. David Addison is one of those fans. Familiar to many for his television commentary of the British Touring Car Championship for ITV4, Addison’s involvement in motorsport media for over 20 years provides us the perfect opportunity to dissect why motorsports broadcasting must evolve and how in the digital age.

“We’ve got YouTube, Facebook Live, Twitter, all these different things. The sport’s got to start embracing that rather than trying to be aloof and make Formula One aspirational.

Ultimately, it’s the future generation, the younger generation you need to appeal to because you want to hook them in now and keep them for 30 or 40 years.

They are your future audience and if you make a sport that they are not interested in, or they can’t consume, they are not going to hang around.”

Addison’s words reflect almost a complete contrast to former Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone’s viewpoint on social media in the sport. In an infamous 2014 interview with Campaign Asia-Pacific magazine, Ecclestone remarked that that there was “no point” in trying to engage a younger generation through digital platforms as they were not the affluent and ageing audience sponsors were targeting.


Former Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone was reluctant for the sport to embrace social media. (Image – Wikipedia Commons)

The decision to put a high proportion of international motorsports series behind a pay-wall in recent years, including Formula One from 2019 after an exclusive rights deal was struck with Sky Sports, has been one of controversy amongst supporters, with many venting their frustration by turning away from their television sets.

Overnight Viewing Figures from the sport’s two broadcasters, Channel 4 and Sky Sports, show a combined average audience of just 2.63 million viewers, a drop of 29.7 percent on average from the 2015 season and the lowest for a Formula One season since records began in 2006.

Throw into the mix that 74.5% of this figure is made up of viewers on free-to-air Channel 4 and you have a worrying picture for Formula One’s television future post 2019, a move that Addison feels is the wrong approach going forwards.

“You’ve got to be careful not to price yourself away from the viewer. So, from a Touring Car point of view, by 2019, to be the only free-to-air mainstream motorsport potentially on television. Fantastic.

“I think other championships need to be careful as well, not to be blinded by money, come back and make themselves free for people to watch which is how it should be.”

Although some championships have built up an impressive online portfolio; think Formula E’s fan boost service, DTM’s live YouTube streaming, and live timing available online for many of the top-flight British national series through TSL Timing; Addison feels that the use of online engagement and streaming is perhaps most beneficial to Britain’s lesser-known series.

“I think motorsport on television is going to start to go back to how it used to be in the sense of being the top end of the sport, a lot of your grass-roots racing will go online.

“Some of it looks a bit ropey and its audience is very limited. Hill rallying as an example, people who want to watch it, largely, are people involved in Hill Rallying, so stick it on a YouTube Channel and let them watch it. I think motorsport on television will become a better product again.”

Although fan engagement on television is a dramatic issue in an age of dwindling TV viewing figures, this is only half the objective. Getting people through the doors, and staying there, is something the MSA have been targeting for a while under their “Go Motorsport” initiative.

With 140,000 spectators turning up to see Lewis Hamilton drive to race victory in the 2015 British Grand Prix at Silverstone, and a record 33,000 fans descending on Thruxton in May for last season’s British Touring Car thriller, numbers at events suggest that some of the work is paying off in getting people trackside. Although, keeping new fans excited in a sport which is at times difficult to follow is a problem that Addison feels needs addressing.

“They need big screens so that people can see the bits of the track they can’t. They need to have a radio, and it should be free. That should be a given so you can hear what is going on. There should be more scoreboards showing all positions and there should be a wireless LAN so you can get onto a live timing site.

“They are, for me, utterly fundamental. There shouldn’t be any argument or question of whether these are a good thing, they should be a given. We are in a modern age and almost, to a degree, the facilities for spectators are the worst they have ever been.”

As the sun begins to set outside the window of the café we have occupied for the past hour, there is just enough time to ask Addison’s predictions for the upcoming British Touring Car campaign. A season where reigning champion Gordon Shedden is joined on the grid by three confirmed former champion entrants and a wealth of new talent all looking to taste success in Britain’s premier tin-top series.


Can reigning champion Gordon Shedden grab a fourth title in 2017? (Image – kartingnord / Flickr Commons)

“I think Shedden, to do three in a row, would be quite something. It has happened before but not in a generation like this, not in an era where it’s been so competitive.

“If I had to put money on the table now, I would guess that Colin Turkington would go to BMW, away from BMR, and that it would be between him and Gordon Shedden”.

A titanic title battle awaits, available Live and free on ITV4.

“Just how it should be” smirks Addison as he finishes his Double Espresso in one quick swish.

Luke Chillingsworth

New kids on the block: Formula One’s rising stars

First published for The National Student on the 4th November 2016

Everyone has heard of Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Sebastian Vettel, and to some extent Daniel Ricciardo. But who are the new kids on the block, the dreamers working hard to secure a seat on the Formula One grid in 2017 and beyond? We’re having a look at the sport’s five hottest prospects…

Click here for the full article 

London’s Must See Christmas Attractions

London is one of the greatest cities in the world. But how can you enjoy the best of what the capital has to offer as it celebrates the biggest event of the year, Christmas?

We take a look at five of the must see festive attractions in London this December.

1. Winter Wonderland


Winter Wonderland is London’s showpiece Christmas attraction – Photo – VAL_kao/Flickr/Creative Commons License


If you haven’t heard of the capital’s biggest Christmas attraction, where have you been. Winter Wonderland is an annual event hosted at London’s Hyde Park between mid November and early January and attracts bumper crowds to its unique mix of German market stalls, mouthwatering food and drink as well as high octane rides. It is a must see Christmas attraction and cannot be missed by any London resident. The event is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year as well, giving you that extra incentive to make the trip  if you needed one. Mo Qadi, 28, a Consultant based in London said: “It’s a place where people can have fun in the winter-time. This is the place to bring your children.” Even X Factor finalists cannot resist their excitement.

2. Ice Skating


Ice Skating in front of the Natural History Museum is simply stunning. (Photo – Luke Chillingsworth, taken on a Smartphone)

There are many pop-up rinks across the capital this December. However the showpiece attractions have to be at two of London’s most loved tourist hot-spots; The Tower of London and the Natural History Museum. Both venues offer ice skating sessions at tremendous rates and are open daily up throughout the Christmas period. Where better to achieve that perfect group selfie?

3. Oxford Circus Christmas Lights


Oxford Circus is lit up with a dazzling collection of lights. (Photo – Luke Chillingsworth – Taken on a Smartphone)

If your planning in popping into Oxford Street for some last minute gift grabbing this December, you’re in for a real treat. Everything from store fronts to trees have been lit up by a dazzling display that is sure to catch the eye of anyone that makes a visit. Your shopping trip will certainly be disturbed as you make a dart for the camera. Aparna Ashok, 19, a tourist in London said: “It’s something you should see at least once in your life. Other cities and countries don’t decorate streets in the way London does”.

4. Cinderella at the London Palladium

A Christmas visit to London would not be complete without enjoying a show in the famous West End. Pantomine is always a Christmas tradition  and this year is no exception. The London Palladium’s offering of Cinderella is by far the most anticipated piece. A star studded cast such as Paul O’Grady, Julian Clary and Amanda Holden take to the stage to tell the ancient tale of the rags to riches fairy tale when the production opens on 10th December. Tickets are available for purchase from the Box Office or online via the website.

5. Christmas Carols at Trafalgar Square


Enjoy a spot of caroling in front of the beautiful Trafalgar Square Christmas tree (Photo – JakeTanner/Flickr/Creative Commons License)

If singing is more your thing, Christmas carol concerts will be found all over the capital this December. The pick of the bunch is by far Trafalgar Square’s nightly service where 40 singing groups representing charities across the country will gather beneath the Christmas Tree between Monday 5th and Thursday 22nd of December. The performances take place from 4-8pm on weekdays, and 2-6pm at weekends. Money raised will go to a different charity every night and these include anything from The Royal London Society for Blind People and The Epilepsy Action London Forum. The event will offer a warm end to the evening while supporting local causes, keeping in the true spirit of Christmas.

Make sure to share this with your friends on Social Media so you can organise a day out to tick some of these off the list.

Luke Chillingsworth