Ciao, Italia Conti

The Barbican branch of the famous drama school shut last month – A closure attributed to the coronavirus.

Of all the local Covid19 casualties, the loss of the junior school in the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts – which claims to be the world’s oldest theatre training academy – has been felt the keenest.

In a modern building in Goswell Road, close to the Barbican, the school – which took 95 children aged 10 to 16 – closed in May, a situation attributed to the financial problems bought on by the coronavirus. The principal Samantha Newton broke the news to parents in an email, saying “…it is with regret that we have had to take the heart breaking decision to close the Junior School at the Italia Conti Academy at the end of July 2021… Please be assured that we have explored all options to avoid this outcome with great urgency.” A petition and fundraising campaign aiming to raise £3m has begun, with the most urgency given to the 27 students due to take GCSE’s next year.

Although there have been other stresses on the school, including a well-publicised feud in 2018 and an attempt to sell the Barbican site – not to mention a changed educational market – the school continued until the stress of the Covid-19 forced its hand. The academy exists on other sites in Clapham and Guildford and will still offer further and higher education, but the junior school is a significant loss.

Clerkenwell parent Sophie Kerttu Scott, whose son Hector, 13 was a pupil at Italia Conti, was taken by surprise at the school’s closure.

“We had no idea at all and didn’t see it coming,” she says. “Hector was very happy there and it genuinely had a special atmosphere – with boys doing ballet, everyone doing musical theatre and great staff.

“The hope is obviously that someone will come and buy it – after all, it is a nationally known name. Until its closure, children from across the country would attend and it was incredibly competitive to get in.

The Italia Conti school was founded in 1911 by Italian actress Italia Emily Stella Conti, who based an early version in Conduit Street, in the West End. With that site bombed in World War II, it relocated to Clapham and then expanded to Goswell Road in 1981 – the site in question.

Over the course of the last century the school has built a very high profile, and is internationally known. A century of alumni include Noel Coward (whose Noel Coward Room archive is based in nearby Smithfield), Carry On star Charles Hawtrey, Olivia Hussey, Patsy Kensit, Pixie Lott, Martine McCutcheon, Louise Redknapp, Tracey Ullman and the late Jill Gascoine, who recently died aged 83. “It is a great loss,” says the actor Leslie Ash.