Former West End star hopes to inspire school with culture festival

A former West End performer turned headteacher is helping to shape a mini culture festival at his Washington school.

Thursday, 19th July 2018, 6:00 am
Vicki Kennedy (right) and Rachel Hamer at Sunderland Culture, with Gary Wright, headteacher at Usworth Primary School.

Gary Wright performed in the musical Whistle Down the Wind before starting a career in teaching.

Now he’s using his experience in the arts and culture sector to help organise an event at Usworth Colliery Primary School, where he is now headteacher.

The festival is part of a new partnership which three Washington schools have entered into with Sunderland Culture, through its Great Place scheme.

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Last year Sunderland Culture secured £1.25million of National Lottery funding when the city was confirmed as one of 16 pilot areas for the Great Place Scheme, a joint fund from Arts Council England and Heritage Lottery Fund to put arts, culture and heritage at the heart of communities.

Vicki Kennedy, Sunderland Culture’s Great Place Scheme Producer, said: “Our programme is about bringing local communities together, improving the creative economy, giving young people inspiration and improving health and wellbeing.

“Gary has been a huge help in putting together the programme, and as well as introducing young people to different art forms, we hope it will also help build their confidence.”

The school’s mini culture festival will be held over four days during the last week of the summer term.

“Day One will involve West End performer and motivational speaker Brandon Lee Sears delivering creative workshop to classes,” explained Gary.

“Day Two will be a musical day during which singer songwriter Barry Hyde of the Futureheads will help pupils write a new school song which will be performed at the end of the day,” he added.

On Day Three of the festival, the whole school – 410 pupils - will be taken to a Sunderland beach where pupils will work with a dance artist, and on Day Four the young people will work with Set of Drawers, a set of freelance artists and illustrators based in the North East.

Vicki explained: “In our first year we’ll be working directly with pupils and delivering a cultural programme into schools; during the second year we’ll be involving parents and looking at the cultural offering locally, and in the third year we want to take a wider, community view and see how we can increase the speed of engagement with the arts.

“With Gary’s background and experience in the arts, I think Usworth Colliery Primary is the perfect school to pilot the programme.

“We want to bring actors, dancers, musicians and artists into the school, giving pupils direct access to high-class performers.

Gary, who trained at the Royal School of Music after completing a teaching degree at Northumbria University, said he thinks teaching the arts in schools is vitally important.

“All schools quite rightly have a focus on basic skills, but I believe that immersing pupils in the arts and culture inevitably raises achievement in the core subjects of English and maths.

“I’ve seen the quietest of children come alive in such classes, and young people can gain enormous amounts of confidence through the arts.”