What do the youngest ever finalist in The Apprentice and a budding teenage thespian who has starred in Matilda on the West End have in common? Supreme talent, indelible passion, and intelligence are all prerequisites for such ventures, but another key thing stands out. They both attended a certain Lancastrian performing arts school. A school with a difference.
Founded in 2007 by current CEO Jane Maudsley, Little Voices is all about the holistic when it comes to performing arts. Something of a national phenomenon, the group - started in Jane's home town of Blackburn - now has over 50 franchises dotted across the entire UK. From Newcastle to Bath, drama and singing lessons with distinction are never too far away.
The award-winning group also includes eight branches in Preston and Chorley alone, offering the North West's up-and-coming talent access to tuition from the age of four to 18. And that expert teaching not only covers the classical elements of performance arts, but also in invaluable life lessons in team-work and social skills.
"Children who come to Little Voices build fantastic friendships and confidence for later life," explained Jane. "With the world moving into a technical age of social media, we can't get away from the fact that we all need good communication skills; here, children are used to walking into a room and making eye contact, shaking people's hands, and presenting themselves.
"It's physical, social, and mental," added Jane, who read Music at the University of Sheffield, trained at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, and now lives in Leyland. "It gets them out - they're not sat watching TV or on their computer or phone. It's all about using life-skills learned through drama and singing to pursue dreams in whatever career they choose."
And those careers include some real stars. At 22, M+LKPLUS founder Camilla Ainsworth was The Apprentice's youngest ever finalist last year, while KidzBop member Mia Mcloughlin recently played Amanda Thripp in ‘Matilda The Musical’ in the West End and Cosette in Les Misérables in Dubai. The Little Voices touch is working wonders.
A core tenet of the group's mantra is small classes. Whilst studying and training for their LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art) exams, children are never taught in groups of more than eight so as to ensure that pupils get the benefits of both individual tuition and the skills which arise from working in a collective setting.
"I absolutely love educating children, and I saw a real need for kids to be taught in small groups in which they can be nurtured but also allowed to build team-skills and confidence," said Jane of the group's ethos. "I know we change their lives and make them feel happy and confident. And with funding for drama not what it used to be, we're there to make a difference to the 9.1m children in the UK."
Rachel Bradshaw - the principal of Little Voices venues in Chorley, Leyland, and Preston - works with around 150 children every week on top of her work as a full-time secondary teacher. "I absolutely love it," she said. "The small classes are a massive bonus: in some organisations they have up to 30 in a class and children just get lost. We really get to know the children and if anyone's nervous, they soon come out of their shell.
"It's lovely to get a message to say they're the lead in the school play or they've got a report from school saying they've started reading out in class - we help them socially as well," added Rachel, who lives in Buckshaw Village. "I got a lovely email this week from the parent of a child who was really shy. They were on holiday and her son had gone out and started chatting to them at the holiday club.
"She said he would never had had the confidence to do that before Little Voices. We let them believe in themselves."
Now enrolling for September, Little Voices has and will always be about the kids. "I'm welling up just speaking about them," says Jane. "We didn't franchise to grow a big business, we grew the business to make a big difference."