How The Old Vic and RBC are empowering youth through theatre

Arts and culture
Community involvement

The Take the Lead programme is giving young people the skills they need to thrive in their careers.


The performing arts can transform people’s lives on both a personal and professional level. That’s why RBC is proud to partner with organisations that leverage the arts to empower young people.

2024 marks the sixth anniversary of Take the Lead, an educational programme offered by London theatre, The Old Vic , in partnership with RBC.

The power of the arts

Take the Lead gives 16- to 18-year-old state school students the opportunity to develop key employability skills that will help them thrive after they graduate. To date, the programme’s staff have worked with over 170 schools and more than 4,400 young people, offering practical training in five core areas: communication, self-management, self-belief, teamwork and problem solving.

“I think people really underestimate the power of the arts to support young people,” says Hannah Fosker, education and community director at The Old Vic. “Many of the students graduating now will be going into jobs that don’t even exist yet, so they’ll need to be creative and spontaneous. Schools don’t always have the time to teach these things – not because they don’t want to, but because they have to be curriculum-driven.”

Just as schools need support from outside agencies, so, too, do their pupils. According to the Prince’s Trust 2023 Youth Index , 47 percent of young people in the UK worry they will never be financially stable, while 64 percent say a secure, quality job would improve their mental health.

It’s surprising to learn who is most in need of help. Fosker recalls running the pilot version of Take the Lead, which involved two schools – one whose students were high academic performers.

“The head teacher told me how its students could get As and A*s in the exams but couldn’t look people in the eye or hold a conversation,” says Fosker. “Teachers often tell us that certain students don’t talk in class. But when those teachers sit in on a Take the Lead session, they’ll see the same young people really getting involved. The students are almost bowling in through the doors, and they feel like it’s their space. It’s brilliant.”

In a series of drama workshops, students work with trained actors to pitch concepts for potential productions at The Old Vic. They learn to devise and improvise scenes and to control their body language and voice. They put these skills to use in networking scenarios and mock interviews, before hearing from visiting professionals about their careers.

“Seeing the young people connect with working professionals is really refreshing,” says Stephen Leib, a theatre studies teacher at St Dominic’s Sixth Form College, in Harrow. “They present challenging problems and creative solutions, and they deliver information in really engaging ways. It would take a lot of time, organisation and financial backing for us to produce something on that level, so it’s impressive to see.”

Take the Lead also encourages applicants from communities under-represented in business and the arts; if they are accepted into the programme, it can have a profound impact on their sense of belonging and bolster future opportunities.

Take the Lead makes the arts accessible

“The programme is unique in welcoming pupils into spaces they may not normally feel they can access,” says Manmit Bhambra, inclusion and access lead at The Old Vic. “In the past, pupils have told me they really wanted to apply to a certain university, but they felt at a disadvantage as they were less able to demonstrate experience of extracurricular activities and programmes, which is increasingly important on university applications. Take the Lead gives them something to reflect on and a chance to showcase the skills they acquire and finesse; it’s an important step in creating equity of opportunity for those who take part.”

This is the magic of collaboration. When disparate organisations come together to pool their resources, it creates far greater potential for positive impact.

“Engaging in partnerships is one of the most important things RBC does” says Fosker. “We meet many pupils who want to go into finance or banking, and as part of Take the Lead they get to visit RBC’s offices. There, they can suddenly imagine themselves working in corporate spaces and meet brilliant speakers who can tell them about their own career journeys. It’s transformational for the young people.”

RBC has been a partner with Take the Lead since its inception, providing funding as well as the chance for students to tour offices and speak with employees.

RBC’s employees benefit too. “The programme includes opportunities for our colleagues to volunteer and really get stuck in,” says Jennifer Sofianou, director of Sponsorship, Events and Citizenship at RBC Wealth Management in the British Isles.

“We have a diverse workforce, and they get to share their knowledge and different career experiences with the students. They value the opportunity – often learning a thing or two themselves.”

A former Take the Lead student, Laiyan, who went on to study optometry, praised the importance of the collaborative skills the programme gave her.

“Most activities in the workshops required me to work within a group with peers who I didn’t know so well,” she said. “This helped me to build my leadership skills and self-confidence by leading my group through various scenarios. In optometry, this can help me take the burden off my colleagues, improve the quality of care and better meet the needs of patients.”

There is clear value in the intersection of the arts, education and employability. Take the Lead is testament to this and continues to be a vital resource in preparing youth for the working world of the future.

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