The Extraordinary Story of Company Three

14 January 2022

Company Three

In 2021 the Dame Alice Owen Foundation, the largest charity administered by the Brewers’ Company, concluded twenty years of funding for Company Three (formerly Islington Community Theatre). This is their extraordinary story.

Company Three’s Founder and Artistic Director, Ned Glasier, says: “Fourteen years ago, I was asked to direct a play for Islington’s borough youth theatre. I knew the area well as both a resident and from my time working at the Almeida Theatre. I knew how much potential Islington’s young people had, and I knew how many challenges they faced too. I had always wanted to run a youth theatre. It felt like a perfect opportunity.

“At that time, the youth theatre was solely funded by the Dame Alice Owen Foundation - and had been for a few years. The group made a musical theatre production every year, working with around 25 young people. Looking back, I could never have imagined that I would still be running the company so many years on, or that we would have changed so much. Thanks to the consistent support of Dame Alice Owen Foundation, Company Three is now one of the leading youth theatres in the UK. We have supported thousands of local young people across the borough and our work is recognised on a national and international basis.

“A key part of our practice is an in-depth, long-term engagement with young people that is only possible with long-term, understanding funding. DAOF has provided that consistently from the very beginning, directly enabling our work with young people, helping us build local connections and leverage other support. It has been life-changing - both for the young people who we have supported through this most challenging period of life - and for me…On behalf of all the young people, artists, staff, trustees and partners that we’ve worked with over the years, we are profoundly grateful for your support. Thank you.”

Company Three

Over the course of the funding period, Company Three has worked with thousands of young people through three main strands of work:

1 – Core Company: a long-term, intensive engagement over eight years for young people nominated by teachers, social workers and youth workers.

2 – Satellite Projects: short-term, skills-led projects for local young people, often in partnership with other organisations.

3 – Schools Projects: workshops and projects in Islington’s schools and colleges, designed to support the learning of students and teachers.

Company Three’s approach to work with young people has changed fundamentally over the years, through partnerships with leading academics at Cambridge University, Sussex University and Central School of Speech and Drama, and organisations like the Anna Freud Centre and Assemble architects. It has moved from a deficit model, which sees young people as problems to be solved, to an asset-based approach which aims to meet young people for who they are right now. The young people who have been supported have gone on to work in theatre - as actors, directors, designers and administrators. Perhaps more importantly, hundreds of others have used the skills gained through Company Three’s work to support their studies at universities like Warwick, Coventry, Manchester, UCL and UEA - and in careers as literary agents, lawyers, accountants, youth workers, social workers, estate agents, and community organisers.

Company Three’s work in developing a unique play-making methodology has enabled them to produce exceptional work that gives voice to young people, as well as supporting their development as creative, autonomous artists. The most important home for this work has been in the local area - for audiences of parents, teachers and other adults who have the most power over members’ lives. Families have been transformed by this work. Beyond this, Company Three has also found national audiences for its plays, bringing new attention to young people, the issues they face and the Company as a whole. Their play Brainstorm was the first and only piece of youth theatre to be programmed as part of a regular season at the National Theatre. It was seen by over 30,000 people through its two runs at the NT, and through a special BBC iPlayer broadcast. Brainstorm was especially significant because its exploration of teenage brain development helped staff better understand the young people they work with - creating an important feedback loop into the Company’s regular work with its members. Other plays have tackled subjects like empathy, migration, sex and relationships, fears in adulthood, exam pressure and climate change. Each one has given young people a chance to research, develop arguments and present them in creative, engaging ways.

When the DAOF first funded the work of Company Three, it had little infrastructure, no permanent staff and very few consistent systems. They now have a permanent team of six, including staff members who have grown up in Islington, live in Islington and were past members of Company Three. They are developing a new collaborative model of artistic leadership in their work, with a new team of artists who are more representative of the young people leading the programme. The increased resilience this offers will enable them to better deliver and share their work in the future. They have a permanent office space and ‘Den’ - a small rehearsal room which young people can also use for meetings, their own projects and homework. 

Ned Glasier concludes: “We have found a consistency and confidence in our vision, mission, practice and programme. This has created a foundation for us to continue to build radical, life-changing work in the future. Over the next few months we will write a new business plan, taking us through to 2026. This will include a renewed commitment to supporting local young people, partners and schools in Islington - despite our global reach, we are fiercely local to and are proud to work with the young people of Islington about the issues which affect them most.”