• London’s 1896 community conservatoire reinvents itself after Covid-19 closure
  • Online Art, Music and Drama classes get a digital makeover for students of all ages and abilities –­ perfect for home-schooling and summer holiday staycations
  • Great for boosting mental health during this time of increased anxiety
  • Supporting musicians and arts practitioners whose work has been hit due to Covid-19
  • The transition online opens up a global market

They say that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but in the case of the 140-year-old Blackheath Conservatoire, part of London’s oldest purpose-built arts centre, whose alumni include Jools Holland, Kate Bush and Gary Oldman, that is definitely NOT the case. In the weeks since the Covid-19 lockdown, this remarkable south London charity has completely revised its creative output – going from lessons held within its beautiful 1896 Blackheath home, to offering interactive Zoom classes and on-demand YouTube ‘box sets’ for carefully crafted courses ranging from ukulele for 5-year-olds, to watercolour and drama courses for adults. Not only is it keeping its students engaged and stimulated, but it is opening up its courses to a national and international market. And the response has been tremendous:

‘My high points in lockdown are my online singing and piano lessons… such a privilege to have tuition from international working musicians! The live feedback is so necessary to keep the musical confidence going.’ (Isabel, learning piano and singing, retired)

‘We loved our classes at Blackheath Conservatoire and were very sad to have to give them up when we moved to Bucks. We are so pleased to be able to continue with something we enjoyed so much, with talented and enthusiastic teachers.’ (Clare, whose daughters enjoy Early Years music)

‘As a professional musician myself I can see how cleverly the class is designed to give these tiny little people all the building blocks they will need for a great musical start to life. They are learning so much and yet it’s so fun they don’t even realise!’ (Ailish reviewing 3-year-old Daisy’s Toddler Tunes music classes)

‘Singing is one of the only times in my week when I feel completely calm and focused. I experience OCD and sometimes this can bring me very low. My lessons give me a space where I can leave the world and my worries at the door’. (Ella, adult individual Singing student)

Clare Cornwell, Interim CEO at The Conservatoire commented: ‘We usually have 2000 people a week attending classes here in art, music and drama, from babies through to retirees, so closing our doors meant we had to adjust to survive. Our brilliant tutors have risen to the challenge and transformed their courses online. They’re still the high-quality classes they’ve always been, but they are now ideal for lockdown and beyond. We have had wonderful feedback from our students, particularly from grateful parents of our Early Years students – now they have their favourite classes on demand! I am sure our Victorian founders would be delighted with sign-ups from as far away as Scotland and California. Today Blackheath, tomorrow the world!’.

The Conservatoire’s online courses are perfect for parents coping with home-schooling, and also for those looking for a creative outlet at this time, who want to emerge from lockdown with a new skill. Perhaps best known for its early years music classes that plant the seeds for a lifelong musical journey, the online courses include music sessions for tiny tots, ukulele tuition for three-year-olds and above, and individual instrument lessons for children and adults, plus art and drama courses – and more besides. The Conservatoire pioneered art therapy after the First World War, and our students have commented on the positive mental health aspects of arts learning, particularly at this time of anxiety. Many have turned to the arts for solace – having the regular commitment of an artistic project, as well as interaction with the tutor and other learners on Zoom, has been very important for their mental well-being – and their tutors’ too.

For people who have not personally suffered with the virus, being furloughed or working from home has released more leisure time, and they are using it to explore tutored and supported courses in addition to dipping in and out of free online content. With a long summer break on the horizon, and holiday travel restricted, The Conservatoire’s roster of summer courses for adults and children of all ages (which opens for booking in June), will also be a god-send.

The Conservatoire is a unique charity set up to provide inspiring and life-enhancing opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to develop their creative potential. The passion that drove its establishment in the Victorian era is still at the heart of its ethos today: the arts should be for everyone. To underline this, The Conservatoire operates a bursary scheme so that less privileged people in the community do not miss out on these outstanding learning opportunities. Previous bursary recipients include singer Eska Mtungwazi, 2015 Mercury Music Prize nominee.

To encourage uptake of its online courses, special offers will be rolled out on social media, including a ‘Course of the Day’ offer every day on Facebook, free taster lessons for younger children on Facebook and YouTube during half term, and exclusive course discounts for their e-newsletter subscribers. Extra tutors will be taken on to support the demand, helping to sustain artists and musicians who have been hit by the loss of work with the closure of venues and orchestras. The Conservatoire has revived its gift vouchers (available at any price point) for online purchase and delivery, so that the gift of a music, drama or arts course can more easily be given – something that has been much appreciated.