Franchising · 3 July 2018

Can a theatre school franchise change the world? Razzamataz takes on social mobility

Denise Hutton-Gosney is the founder and MD of Razzamataz Theatre Schools.
Denise Hutton-Gosney is the founder and MD of Razzamataz Theatre Schools.

The success of the franchise industry has enabled more people to run their own businesses, even if this is the first time they have considered the risky yet rewarding life of an entrepreneur. But it’s not just fast food joints that have franchising options. Here we look at how Razzamataz Theatre School is changing the way communities support and thrive from performing arts through franchising.

Guided by a social purpose

Diversity in the arts is a global issue that has made headlines over the past year. Encouraging inclusive representation in the performing arts in the UK starts with taking social mobility into account, according to Denise Hutton-Gosney, founder of Razzamataz Theatre Schools. In the British media and arts, the reigning concern is that working-class children are being denied the opportunity to participate due to rising costs of training.

Stars such as Benedict Cumberbatch and Eddie Redmayne were cited as typical of those at performing arts colleges who came from privileged backgrounds. How does working-class talent figure in this context?

This is what prompted Hutton-Gosney to found Razzamataz, a franchisor that puts social inclusion at its core, while empowering communities to manage their own ventures. Her own personal experience of being priced out of college set the wheels in motion. “I actually gained a scholarship to go to college but I still had no money to live and to buy the shoes and equipment I needed. I couldn’t pay my rent so I had no other option but to leave,” she says.

Hutton-Gosney’s passion to perform and drive and determination meant that she would regularly get the overnight bus from Scotland to London to audition.

After a lot of good old fashioned hustling, she gained professional employment before she took the leap into setting up her own theatre school. Coming from a working-class background herself, her one dream was to make performing arts as accessible to as many young people as possible.

Franchising to reach more communities

Razzamataz Theatre Schools launched in 2000 and has been franchising since 2006, with a training system that immerses its franchisees to soak up the company’s values and mission.

The initial training starts with a fully comprehensive week at the company’s head office in Penrith. Everything is covered from product knowledge, employment law, child protection, PR, marketing, customer service, health and safety, bookkeeping and social media. Although it is a very intense week, the training allows people to get their business off the ground in the right direction.

Both new and existing franchisees are invited to brush up on their skills and to keep updated with the latest industry developments. “The training week is very intense but really we know that this is just the very start of our new principals’ journey,” Hutton-Gosney explains.

“Throughout their launch period and in fact the entire time they are principals, we will be in constant contact through support Skype calls, webinar training sessions and regional and national meetings. We provide all the support, training and guidance that a new theatre school Principal needs and constantly keep up to date with any changes in regulations to pass that knowledge on to our theatre school franchisees.”

An option for parents and part-timers

One of its biggest pulls in the communities in which it serves is that Razzamataz allows its franchisees to work around their own schedules. The business has launched a new franchise offering to appeal to those looking for a part-time enterprise. According to Hutton-Gosney, it’s more for parents wanting to work flexibly around their children or someone who works part-time and is looking to combine this with their own business.

The new franchise option, Razzamataz Early Years, has been created to cater to the demand for people wanting to work in the children’s performing arts industry but who do not have the relevant experience to launch a Razzamataz Theatre School.

It consists of a brand-new product called Razz Tiny Tots, which is a class especially designed for babies (6 to 24 months) and their parents or carers. It will also include the established products of Razz Tots for children age two and three and Razz Minis for those age four and five.

These classes will be run during the week rather than a Saturday and unlike the main school, there won’t be an end of year show to organise. This makes the franchise much more accessible to a wide range of people, adds Hutton-Gosney.

Social mobility first

The growth of Razzamataz Theatre Schools has been steady over the years, but its initial vision to be socially inclusive still lies at the heart of its franchises. The theatre school offers young performers the chance to win a scholarship consisting of a year’s free tuition, worth approximately £600, with their local Razzamataz in association with The Stage newspaper since 2010.

As a company, Razzamataz has given around £30,000 worth of scholarships every year, accumulating to circa £200,000 worth of scholarship places over the years across the UK.

This partnership has given a lot of young people across the UK to get involved in performing arts, many for the first time. It has also given students the confidence to go on and secure prestigious places at college and university, says Hutton-Gosney.

“Winning a scholarship with The Stage has been wonderful for the students and given them the belief in themselves to go on and achieve their dreams,” she adds.

“As a business, we have helped lots of families over the years and inspired young people to enjoy the theatre arts and that is one of my proudest achievements.”

Remembering her own financial struggle at college was the driving force for Hutton-Gosney and the Razzamataz schools to set up their own charity called Future Fund, which helps fund students in performing arts colleges once they leave Razzamataz.

“The charity was set up in 2008 to give back to the students and their families who have been with us over the years,” she says. “Had I been given the chance to audition for additional funds to help with my living costs, it would have been a lifeline for me. To date, we have raised more than £50,000 and supported many students who may not have been able to complete their courses without the extra funding.”

Razzamataz Theatre Schools are also very proud of the 50% sibling discounts they offer, which has made a huge difference to many families trying to offer their children the chance to learn these skills.

“Everyone at Razzamataz is passionate about the benefits of performing arts to children and young people,” adds Hutton-Gosney. “We will continue to make sure that this is an area where all children can have opportunities regardless of their economic background.”

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Praseeda Nair is the editorial director of Business Advice, and its sister publication for growing businesses, Real Business. She's an impassioned advocate for women in leadership, and likes to profile business owners, advisors and experts in the field of entrepreneurship and management.

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