Back in issue 55, you may remember our interview with Sojo Publishing Mouse, the children’s publishing house. Well now we’ve reunited with the ‘mouse’ half of the team, Helen Goodbarton, to talk all about her drama group Sprouts. Why? Because this month Sprouts turns 10, and that’s a pretty big deal.
Sprouts provide after school drama classes for children aged 4 to 13. These run during term time, and are split up into three age groups: Sprouts (4-8), Sprouting Up (8-11), and Sprouted! (11-13).
I met up for a chat with Helen over a cup of tea to find out what’s been happening over the past decade. Helen, who is the ‘Head Gardener’ at Sprouts, trained as an actor at the Guildford School of Acting, and began working within the area of children’s theatre after her graduation. It was her job with a young children’s drama company in London that originally planted the seed for Sprouts.
“I started doing classes with this company and suddenly had confidence in what I was doing. It felt really easy and enjoyable,” says Helen. “But I didn’t like living in London. Whenever I came back here and talked to my friends they’d say I would light up talking about work.” They then encouraged her to move back to Nottingham and do something like that here.
“So I thought, right, I’m gonna do it then!” beams Helen. “I’m gonna start a company in Beeston and create these classes the way I like them.” From there, she cherry-picked aspects of the London company which she thought worked, but developed her own ethos for Sprouts which is all about firing up children’s imagination through drama.
“We try and teach them that they don’t have to have a right answer. They’re allowed an opinion or an idea. It’s about the process not the product. It’s not a ‘can you do X, Y, Z by the end of term’ it’s ‘are you enjoying it?’” Sprouts classes involve playing games, going on storytelling adventures, developing stories, dancing, and sharing end of term shows in front of parents. The children develop social skills, teamwork, confidence, co-ordination, but most importantly not being afraid to be themselves.
It’s nice to know there are kids out there that you’re helping in a non-traditional kind of way to become their own little person
Helen moved back here in January 2008 and her first class was on April 4 of that year. Her original name for the company was ‘Treesprouts’ which a friend reacted to by exclaiming ‘Sprouts!’ which then stuck. “I didn’t want anything that had ‘drama’ or ‘theatre’ in the title because I think that gives people a pre-conceived idea of what you’re doing,” says Helen. “You just have to want to have fun with your imagination and be a bit silly!”
She also attended a few business courses where they asked the inevitable ‘where do you see yourself in 1/5/10 years?’ question. “I remember thinking 10 years? I just want to make a term of classes and for people to come. The idea to still be going in 10 years at that point in time was crazy,” says Helen.
Since starting the company, some children have continued right the way through all of the classes, and are still with her now. One boy, Charlie, who Helen calls her ‘Original Sprout’ was the first child to sign up for her classes when it began, and he’s now volunteering for her. “I started that little man out on his journey,” says Helen. “It’s lovely to see that he’s doing what he’s doing because of our classes. It’s nice to know there are kids out there that you’re helping in a non-traditional kind of way to become their own little person.”
Helen has also been able to employ a number of people over the years to give various classes around Nottingham, some of whom have been with her right from day one. “It’s rewarding to be able to give other people the opportunity and be able to pay them to do a job that they love,” she says.
I ask Helen what the most rewarding aspect of Sprouts has been: “It’s the little things, emails from parents telling you that it’s the highlight of their week or telling you that you’re the threat if their kid doesn’t behave then they can’t come to Sprouts.” And of course, Sprouts became the catalyst for Helen writing her book The Glowing Snowman.
So, after a decade, what comes next for Sprouts? “It would be nice to be able to take more of a back seat for my sanity,” she says. “Maybe I’ve got as much out of it as I can. But I don’t want [Sprouts] to lose its verve and its zizz. I would like Sprouts to still exist in another five years’ time, in whatever form. People say ‘aren’t you so proud of it?’ and I say, ‘it’s just what I do.’ I grow with it, and it’s probably quite a big tree now!”