A year ago, teenager Lucy Eccles was facing bitter disappointment.
A talented dancer, she had just won a place at the famous Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts.
But because it was a foundation course, there was no financial support. And there was no way Lucy, or her mum Jill, a cleaner, could afford the £9,000 tuition fees.
It seemed as if Lucy had hit what performer and Equity councillor Jackie Clune calls “the class ceiling” in performing arts.
A year later, thanks to the generosity of Mirror readers and support from Lucy’s hometown of Wigan, she is just finishing that foundation year.
Even better, she’s one of a handful on her course to get on to the full degree course – more than repaying strangers’ faith in her talent.
“I can’t believe how generous people are,” Lucy, 18, says.
“I’m over the moon about getting on to the degree course. We’re being taught by people who are professional dancers for stars like Rita Ora and Take That. I get to dance every day, and on the degree course the teaching is even wider.”
With the financial support and loans available to degree-level students, Lucy will now be able to take up the course at LIPA, and move to Liverpool instead of commuting from Wigan where she lives with her mum.
“Lucy’s success shows that if you invest in people in the arts it’s not a waste of money because they are so determined to do what they want to do,” says Alan Gregory, who set up the crowdfunding account after showcasing her talent in his Beyond Wigan Pier musical last year.
“She is a star of the future, there is absolutely no doubt.”
Lucy is also part of Alan’s Pianos, Pies and Pirouettes project, teaching rugby league side Wigan Warriors ballet as part of their fitness and core strength training.
“She’s already giving back to her community,” he says.
Her mum Jill says she was blown away by people’s kindness.
“We just never could have afforded it and it would have been terrible to have to tell Lucy she couldn’t go to LIPA despite winning the place,” she says.
“She came so close to not going.”
Crowdfunding has helped Lucy break through the class ceiling, but cannot – nor should it – close the yawning gap left by a lack of working-class talent in music, performing and visual arts.
In the overall workforce, 35% of people are from working-class backgrounds. But that drops to 18.2% in the performing arts.
Publishing and film (12.6%) and TV and radio (12.4%) have even worse representation levels, according to a report last year by arts charities Create London and Arts Emergency.
Comedian Josie Long says she co-founded Arts Emergency because “we believed passionately that those with the most potential are often the least able to pay for education, the least able to pull favours or access helpful networks, to work for free, or find shortcuts into paid creative and cultural work.”
An inquiry carried out last year by the Labour Party – Acting Up, led by former actor Tracy Brabin and fellow MP Gloria De Piero – found that 42% of British BAFTA winners went to private school.
Meanwhile, in cuts affecting state schools, the arts are often the first to go. Last year saw a 10% drop in arts GCSEs being taken.
Online forums such as The Student Room and others are full of posts about foundation courses in particular.
“I have been offered a place at Trinity Laban on their year ISP (Independent Study Programme) musical theatre and have no idea how to pay for it,” one poster writes.
“I am from a low-income family with a terminally ill parent so no savings or spare money to pay HELP!
“The year course will hopefully lead on to the three-year degree but how can I get funding for the year course?”
A year on from Lucy getting her place much is resting on a parliamentary inquiry held by the Performers’ Alliance All-Party Parliamentary Group – made up of 70 MPs and peers – working with Equity, the Musicians’ Union and the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, due to report later this year.
Equity councillor Jackie Clune says that working-class people are being “priced out and written out” of the arts.
“Working-class access to creating and enjoying art is a leaky pipe that needs fixing if the cultural life of this country is not to become the sole preserve of the privileged few,” she says.
Lucy’s MP Lisa Nandy says we all lose from the current situation.
“Who knows how many brilliant ballet dancers the world has never seen because of this closed, elitist system that shuts out working-class talent?” she says.
“Lucy’s talent should have been enough to secure her a place at ballet school, but instead she had to fight against the huge financial barriers that stop young people from towns like Wigan living out their dreams.”
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