The Story

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Acland Burghley School are engaged in a unique partnership between the Arts and Education that is unprecedented in the UK. In the school, the orchestra finds a new home, a place to live, play and work. In the orchestra, the school finds revenue and diverse artistic opportunity that inspires across the curriculum. Together they form a pioneering union, stronger than either part, that opens a new horizon of creative life for the benefit of all regardless of background: pupils, families, staff and their broader community. Quick links: Our Commitment, The Five Point Plan, Notes from a Playground, Dreamchasing Young Producers.
"This imaginative partnership takes collaboration between professional artists and the public education system into new and exciting territory in which creativity has a part to play in all aspects of the curriculum."
Sir Nicholas Serota, Chair, Arts Council England

Crispin Woodhead, our chief executive who came up with the idea of a new partnership:

“Our accommodation at Kings Place was coming to an agreed end and we needed to find a new home. I felt that we should not be trying to get a conventional office space solution. Even then it was obvious that our operational environment was getting tougher with pressures in all directions and storms ahead.

It simply didn’t seem correct to hand over so much money, given for art in society, to a London landlord just for a pile of melamine and a watercooler. We were fortunate enough to have an unexpected chance to rethink, to be more creative and productive, after all that is what arts organisations are supposed to. Not trying to achieve more with our funding seemed indefensible.

The Arts Council asks its funded organisations to make the creative case for diversity, to be dynamic and to commit materially to needs of the community. How could moving into a generic office block on a generic and expensive contract possibly meet those expectations?

We already had a strong relationship with many schools in Camden through our well-established education programme. Our General Manager, Edward Shaw, informed me that our appeal had brought a positive response from Kat Miller, Director of Operations at Acland Burghley School. She was working on ways to expand the school’s revenue from its resources and recognised that their excellent school hall might be somewhere we could rehearse. Edward spotted the opportunity and fixed up a visit to meet Kat and tour the school.

We were taken aback when we saw the brutalist space. It felt so much like it could be part of the Southbank Centre: a grand, charismatic hexagon that reverberates with possibility. It’s a wonderful, inspiring space and we were impressed. But we were looking for a home first and foremost and good though this was, we needed somewhere to live as well as play.

As we were leaving the school grounds, a young year 7 student who had just finished his additional English class confronted us and wouldn’t let us go before we had read his freshly written story, a riff on the legend of King Midas, and correctly answered all his questions about it.

As funny as it might sound, it felt like a thunderbolt. We knew there and then that we had to make this remarkable place, with an energy like nowhere else, our home.

It wasn’t actually such a difficult step to contemplate. Our national educational programme, developed by our Education Director, Cherry Forbes, over many years of dedicated work had shown the amazing results achieved by persistently routine commitment to the same people in their own place. So we had every reason to want to take the next step and be a daily engaged presence for the community around our headquarters.

It is a bold move indeed to allow another organisation to take residence on a school campus but Nicholas John, the Head Teacher of Acland Burghley School, is an unusually courageous and dedicated leader. It was his vision that recognised the space we might use on campus and how that could work fluently and successfully and it was his influential voice that paved the way for the innovative agreement with Camden Council and the meticulous working structure that allows Orchestra and School to work in a richly productive interdependence that respects, above all things, the wellbeing and interest of the students.

It is his trust, the trust of his colleagues and of his students that we are proud to repay through our residency.”

"The hope is that the OAE’s continuous presence at the school’s heart will be transformational in many ways, not just in music."
Richard Morrison, The Times
Founding Supporters

Founding Supporters

The move was made possible with a leadership grant of £120,000 from The Linbury Trust, one of the Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts. Their support facilitated the move to the school and underwrote the first three years of education work.

The Linbury Trust

We also received generous donations from Adrian Frost, Selina and David Marks, The Margaret and Richard Merrell Foundation and Martin and Elise Smith to support this exciting new partnership.

Without such enlightened support we would not have been able to embark on this exciting new chapter in the OAE’s history.

Cross-curricular Vision

Cross-curricular Vision

“This partnership is much broader than simply music education. Its reach will be measurable in other areas including physics and mathematics, and supports our new school mission ‘Creating Excellence Together’. The orchestra will very much be a part of the everyday school community, where students will be offered workshops and assemblies. This is a fantastic way to utilise our amazing facilities, alongside a diverse, unique artistic opportunity that inspires creativity across the curriculum.”

Nicholas John, Acland Burghley Headteacher

The Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie

The Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie

A similar project was undertaken in 2015 in Bremen, Germany. The Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie moved into a local comprehensive school in a deprived area and the results were described as “transformational”, with improved academic performance, language skills, mental health and IQ scores; reputational benefits; greater interest in and engagement with music among pupils; strengthened links between school, orchestra and community; and even, according to some of the musicians who took part, an improvement in the Kammerphilharmonie’s playing.

“The members of the Bremen Kammerphilharmonie said their experience actually improved them as an orchestra and I think the same will happen to us over the next five or so years, and it will remind all of us of the reasons we make music, which are sometimes easy to forget, especially in our strange and troubled times.”

Margaret Faultless, OAE Principal Violin and Founder Member.

"We are delighted to be supporting an initiative which builds on the excellent music education we have here in Camden. This partnership is a fantastic opportunity for the school to work with a leading orchestra, which I’m sure will inspire many pupils to get involved and learn more about classical music. I’m looking forward to what’s to come."
Cllr Angela Mason, Cabinet Member for Best Start for Children and Families

Read next: Our Commitment