Do we need a school like ALRA North in the North East?

Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin is a journalist specialising in training and education.
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ALRA North, the school in Wigan founded three years ago as the northern arm of Wandsworth-based ALRA South, is the Stage 100 Awards 2013 School of the Year. And I am very proud, as one of the judges, to have been part of the panel which made that decision.

It is cripplingly expensive to train in London where so many of the schools running accredited courses are based. And, although you don’t have to repay a penny of your student loan until you’re earning £21,000 a year, that £27,000 or so tuition fees debt is deeply off-putting for many. But training premises and student living costs are cheaper outside London. ALRA, is therefore able to offer its students in the north an identical, tried and tested product to the training at ALRA South but at lower fees. It also cost less to live and eat in Wigan than in London.

And there’s no doubt that students have to think very hard about costs. Across the whole higher education system applications are down this year from last – which is unsurprising given high costs and parental scepticism. A student I interviewed at Birmingham School of Acting told me that he had turned down the offer of a place in London (at ALRA, ironically) in favour of the Birmingham training so that he could live at home with his mother and keep costs down.

So, now the first ALRA North graduates are available for professional work, having completed their course last summer, and a pleasing number of them are getting jobs. And I’m wondering why some of the other drama schools don’t diversify elsewhere in the country too as it has clearly been a success story for ALRA.

Consider the geography. A huge tranche of the north east of England is a training desert. Yes, I know there are universities offering drama and other relevant courses and there are independent schools but it you travel south east from RCS in Glasgow you won’t find another accredited vocational course until you get to London, unless you head west to LIPA, Manchester School of Theatre, ALRA North at Wigan or BSA. And there’s nothing at all in the whole of the north of England beyond Manchester on either side of the country.

So I reckon there’s great potential for a satellite drama school in, say, Newcastle or Durham. Artistically it’s a vibrant area with the Sage Gateshead, Theatre Royal and Pavilion in Newcastle, Gala in Durham and much more. There’s the potential for infrastructure including partnerships, placements and so on. LAMDA North East, Rose Bruford Newcastle or East 15 Durham all have a ring to them, don’t you think?