To Thrive or not to Thrive: How one theatre company is training thousands

Nafisa Muhtadi

Application Support Manager

19th September 2019



“What do you do for a proper job?” is a question that will be familiar to most people working in the creative arts. For co-founders James Beale and Chloe Whitehead, that question turned into inspiration for their name, Proper Job Theatre Company.

Alongside their touring theatre company, James and Chloe run the LAB Project (Learn, Achieve, Believe), which is all creating transformative change for people’s lives through meaningful work opportunities.

Based in Huddersfield, the LAB Project is a two-week course which teaches people who are distant from the job market how to deliver a drama workshop, which they perform at schools at the end of their course.

This is followed up with action plans and a progression route developed for each individual to help them into employment, volunteering, education or training. Since 1997 over 7,000 people have successfully completed the course in the North of England. James and Chloe have continued to develop and refine their course, working with psychotherapists to build on their previous work using the arts to help people.

The LAB Project has its challenges, especially working with people who have multiple or complex needs. People who join the course are usually socially isolated, underconfident or anxious.

James recalls that in the last few years, "those needs have become more extreme. We have people who are homeless attending the courses. People coming to the course haven’t had any food. Just more poverty.”

The bespoke nature of the LAB Project means that they can tailor their service to the needs of their participants, whether it is help around benefits, paying travel expenses to attend the course or having food parcels dropped off so a trainee doesn’t go hungry. “The course helps their understanding of their potential, to step out of poverty”, says James.

Bringing people together, sharing stories and restoring confidence over the two weeks serves as preparation for the next stage in life, going on to employment, volunteering or training. The LAB Project is run with the help of volunteers, some of whom are ex-participants.

James and Chloe looked to UnLtd's Thrive accelerator to discover where and how to take Proper Job Theatre Company to the next level.

Three people in an acting class moving with their hands in front of them, and smilling.

UnLtd’s Thrive programme is a social accelerator which provides a tailored package of support to social ventures tackling the following areas: improving access to employment for those distant from the job market; and services and products for an ageing society. The Thrive programme is only possible thanks to funding and support from four key partner organisations, UBS, Scope, Thirty Percy, and City & Guilds Group.

Ventures Manager, Cat Chrimes, tailored their accelerator support around Proper Job Theatre’s specific needs. “It’s put us on the next phase of our development” says James.

As part of the programme, the Thrive accelerator brings the social entrepreneurs on it together to learn from each other and benefit from each other’s expertise. James reflects, “that was really useful and really helpful to see other social entrepreneurs struggling with similar problems to us.”

Working with Ventures Impact Support Specialist, Josh Meek, also proved valuable.

“In developing our Theory of Change, it’s helped us to really hone our ability to raise money… and say, this is what we do, this is how we evaluate it and this is how we measure its impact.”

The marketplace can be a challenging place for smaller social enterprises that do not have the infrastructure of large private companies, so being part of an environment that values and recognises their high quality work and impact was very important to the team, “it was great for our confidence to be able to feel that we are a really good organisation, and to have recognition from a national organisation like UnLtd who have much bigger connections than us.”

A woman in a red coat and floral headscarf standing up in front of a small group.

The financial support and investment provided by the Thrive accelerator has enabled Proper Job Theatre Company to scale up and deliver even bigger projects.

Plans for the future of Proper Job Theatre Company include expanding across Greater Manchester and beyond, “to about one million pound turnover, and to become a centre of excellence that helps other social enterprises take our model or in different areas. For example, we would really like to take the LAB Project to London or Liverpool, but we want to help other organisations to deliver it, not as a franchise or licensing model but as a training model,” says James.  “It's about sharing work, rather than selling it.”

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