AN inspirational actress has turned the spotlight on young people by launching a theatre group especially for them.
Julie Saunders, artistic director and project manager for Theatre Studio West, was nominated by Fred Burley, who said: “Julie is totally inspirational. She spends so much of her own time providing a brilliant outlet for young people and has done this for a number of years.
“She has a considerable number of her young people now volunteering for the group but at the same time they are developing their skills and knowledge.
“Despite losing their home at Priory Community Centre she intends to expand. It goes to show what can be done and what’s there for youngsters.”
When Julie set up the group in 2005 in the Priory Centre – now in Bollo Bridge Road – she never imagined the enthusiasm at her first open session.
She said: “I expected only a few people to turn up, but 70 came along.”
The actress, who has worked in theatre, TV (Emmerdale) and film and more recently with the Royal Shakespeare Company, thought of the idea after working on a similar project in the US.
She said: “I loved working with the children and was always interested in the educational aspect: using drama as a tool to explore issues. When I went into the Priory to see what was going on I saw there was nothing for kids.”
There are now 90 children on the books, aged six to 19, and 32 volunteers, the oldest 86. Each class is taken by professional tutors and one full production is staged each year.
Julie insists the children, including those with special needs, are given an all-round experience.
The mum-of-three, who also talks in schools, said:”It’s not only about fame, but an understanding of all aspects of the theatre.
“Students learn lighting, sound, how to make costumes – we had costume designers from The Globe – and how to make a set.
“Very few say they want to be actors. It’s about learning something new, confidence-building.
“We have had children who couldn’t read and now can. It’s also about keeping children off the street, but we have rules. If they won’t go to school, I won’t let them come here.
“One kid said to me, ‘I am the underclass.’ I told them I didn’t want to hear that again.
“It’s important they see there are options and there is a way out. It isn’t about being the best, but the best you can be. We make sure everyone has their moment.”