When the arrival of her children meant that Jennie Graham-Roberts had to reconsider her career, Stagecoach Performing Arts presented itself as a worthy option. With a history in theatre production, and her kids attending classes, taking over Stagecoach Wimbledon was a no-brainer. Now, 12 years later, Jennie is thankful for the opportunity that changed the lives of her whole family.
“Stagecoach has been a monumental part of all of our lives. Both of my children attended classes when they were younger, with my son starring in shows and going on to study Drama for A-Level, and my daughter attending classes right up until 18. They are now all grown up and attending university, but I believe that Stagecoach has had an impact on who they have become today.”
Jennie is no stranger to performing arts herself. In 1992, she set up her own theatre company that produced and performed foreign language plays in the UK, toured the country and delivered workshops to schools, colleges and universities. It was at this time that she steered towards the production side of performing as she relished in the enjoyment that members of the public got from watching her shows.
“In amongst all of this, I got married and had my first child. When my daughter was four, I enrolled her into Stagecoach Wimbledon and she absolutely loved going to the classes. I became good friends with the Principal, Jill, and when she said, ‘I’m thinking of retiring, do you know anyone that might be interested?’, it didn’t cross my mind that I should go for it. It wasn’t until I went home and presented the same question to my husband that he said, ‘Why don’t you do it?’ I just thought ‘Why not!’
“To be honest, I initially felt sceptical about working for such a big company. The satisfaction of having your own business is very rewarding, but I didn’t know whether I would have the same freedom with Stagecoach. The more I researched into the franchise, the more I realised I would be the artistic brain behind everything. I would still have room to make my own mark.”
As her daughter grew up, it meant Jennie’s involvement with the theatre group became increasingly less. She could no longer tour with the team, so taking over Stagecoach Wimbledon turned out to be the right thing to do – both personally and for her career.
For 30 years, the Stagecoach model has been proven and refined to become one of the UK's leading performing arts opportunities. Franchisees build a team of equally passionate and enthusiastic teachers, qualified to bring out the very best in their students. Stagecoach schools provide a thriving, nurturing and supportive environment for creative learning. That’s just one of the reasons that 45,000 children every week flock to classes nationwide.
All new franchisees undertake an expert induction at Stagecoach’s head office in Walton-on-Thames and receive ongoing training along with industry-leading support in marketing, customer service, IT and business development. Their tried-and-tested structure enables franchisees to play to their strengths and provides the best possible environment in which to succeed.
“I completed my training in May 2007, which proved really helpful as it was so well organised and extremely thorough. Over the course of two weeks, I learnt about the whole franchise and how it works, software and admin processes and, most importantly, the child protection aspect of our work. Although I’d already experienced a lot after having my own business, I think it would provide those who haven’t with the valuable skills to make a success of their Stagecoach franchise. It covered everything but left the door open if you ever needed anything.”
Very quickly, Stagecoach took over Jennie’s primary focus, leading to her hiring others to run her former theatre company which continued operating on a much smaller scale.
“It just suited my lifestyle. With two young children, unfortunately, the theatre company had to take a backseat. And with my children already attending Stagecoach, I knew a lot. I had great friendships with other parents, knew the teachers fairly well and understood everything that Stagecoach stood for. It was perfect timing to get on and do something for myself. Stagecoach made it possible for me to spend crucial time with my children. As they both got older, I would usually see them after school and schedule my admin tasks around that. They were my main priority and Stagecoach made it possible to fit everything in around them.”
Stagecoach Wimbledon has already gone through many evolutions, but Jennie’s challenge is now to maintain the same level of service and keep it consistent.
“Rather than expanding in terms of numbers - we’ve already doubled the numbers of students enrolled in the whole school – my goal was to keep up the same great experience for every student and I was determined to achieve that at every lesson. I believe the key to this goal is getting yourself a fantastic team of teachers. They need to be talented individuals who share the same passion and drive as you, but who you also ultimately enjoy working with. As a Principal, this is one of your main roles as most of the other jobs are in place for you – admin is just painting by numbers, once you’ve got it, you’ve got it!
“I currently employ 16 teachers over seven schools. I’ve introduced a choir and a dance troupe to get more students doing an array of things over the course of the term – we want them to have the option to develop a speciality if they wish. We also commit to preparing students for LAMDA exams which help recognise their potential and gives them something tangible to use in the future.”
This year, Jennie has been running rehearsals for her students’ performance of FAME. She admits she enjoys challenging the students.
“This term we’ve really put them to the test but they’re absolutely loving doing FAME. They’ve all been doing their research about the 80s and singing and dancing between classes – it’s practically turned us into a Fame school. To balance it out, the following term is slightly more relaxed where students have the opportunity to have more input in what they do. They can produce the choreography, write the script and suggest songs. It’s all part of their learning.
“Students learn a lot with us but it’s not always about performing. Like Stagecoach so proudly says, it’s about providing them with creative courage for life. We welcome students from each side of the scale – those who need to gain confidence and those who will benefit from channelling their energy more positively. But that’s when the magic happens. They begin to work really well together and complement one another in different aspects of performing. It’s important for us to show that Stagecoach is open to everyone.”
Jennie’s journey from theatre director, to mummy, to Principal has given her the opportunity to see the franchise model from various aspects. Despite working very hard, her role as Principal has allowed her to create a perfect balance between her work and home life.
“I’ve got the freedom to work for myself, around my family life and even have some lovely long holidays as a result. I can rest assured that I have a solid back up right behind me. If you want to work on a local level with local families, then look no further. Stagecoach has changed my life and my family’s life for the better.”
If, like Jennie, you’re looking for an opportunity that easily fits around your home life and brings you great satisfaction, find out more by visiting stagecoachfranchise.com