New home for Newham Academy of Music but passion still the same

There is a grand old building in East Ham whose future is unclear but the future of its former inhabitants, the Newham Academy of Music, could not be more certain as they officially moved this month to NewVIc’s premises in Plaistow.

The move away from the huge brick building in Wakefield Street on Monday last week might have been a disappointment to some, but Chris Brannick, joint chief executive officer and head of Instrumental Music, and Alison Brewerton, funding and communications officer, are very excited about having a closer relationship with NewVIc and the opportunities it will bring.

Chris said: “There’s a simple timing issue because all of our work happens in the evenings and on Saturdays, and all their work happens during weekdays. It’s a big building so this one’s being wasted during the day or their one’s being wasted during the evening.

“So put the two together, it makes perfect sense. The opportunities to get more involved with secondary schools and just to be more at the heart of the whole education system and not stuck on the edge of it is just so exciting.”

Alison enthused about NewVIc principal Eddie Playfair “who is so hot on making Newham this exciting, vibrant, cultural hub that it’ll be really great to work with him”.

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Chris and Alison’s excitement is a million miles away from the trouble they faced in April when parents contacted the Recorder concerned for the academy’s future after bosses lauched an urgent review of finances.

Parents wasted no time in setting up an online petition called “Save the Newham Academy of Music” which attracted 1,274 signatures.

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In June it was announced that, following discussions with Newham Council, the academy would be awarded a final payment.

But Chris has not forgotten the initial support shown by parents and guardians of students. He said: “The parents were hugely supportive. We were shocked by how much support we got. It was just amazing. The speed of the reaction was just incredible.”

Alison added: “It almost made them realise what would happen if we didn’t exist. It shook them up and made them think ‘Oh my goodness, what if it wasn’t here any more?’ We were overwhelmed by the response.”

As one of only a dozen independent music providers in the country, as most are council-run services, the academy is funded to go into schools in the borough and fulfil a curriculum requirement called Whole Class Instrumental and Vocal Tuition.

In addition to providing a sufficiently large body of students to run orchestras, choirs and other musical groups, it takes on students who want to learn more unusual instruments such as the double bass and the french horn which individual schools may not be able teach.

However, the biggest challenge ahead for the academy is the introduction of Every Child a Musician (ECAM), which will give free weekly music tuition for children in years five and six. It is expected to turn out 3,500 young musicians a year.

Chris anticipates the scheme will send more musicians to secondary school than ever and the academy’s services will be even more vital.

He said: “Newham has to get ready for that challenge and we want to be one of the people who are there to help ECAM.

“There’ll be whole classes of children who have had musical tuition and that’s going to be a challenge for secondary schools.”

The history of the academy proves it is well up to the challenge as one of the rare music providers that received an outstanding report two years running from Ofsted and one of the only establishments in the country with a music therapy wing.

The Recorder also recently reported on 14-year-old trumpeter Emily Stokes who appeared with the brass section onstage with group Bombay Bicycle Club at the Underage Festival because, Chris says, “she was good enough”.

However, the real success story of the academy is more heart-warming than the statistics, the onstage performances and, indeed, the building.

Alison and Chris tell stories of how students saved up for a sleepover in the Wakefield Street building to say goodbye, and the time the students busked on the streets during a trip to Belgium to buy their teachers presents.

Chris beamed as he said: “On a Saturday morning, this building is buzzing with people who want to be here. Just the spirit of the academy, that’s where the success is.”

Chris added: “The academy is not the building, the academy is the people.”

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