Patrons and Trustees

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Jimmy Akingbola

Jimmy Akingbola


Jimmy completed his 3-year full-time acting diploma at ALRA South in 1999. Straight after his graduation, he got a role in The Nativity for Bill Alexander at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. His career on stage continued with the role in a Baby Doll production at the Royal National Theatre. Jimmy also played a role, alongside Leslie Phillips, in Naked Justice by John Mortimer at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Since then he has worked on stage, in television and film productions that have given him the pleasure and privilege of working with international stars such as Sir Ian McKellen, Dustin Hoffman, John Boyega, Naomie Harris, Aml Ameen, Sally Hawkins, Catherine Tate, David Walliams and Riz Ahmed.


Barrie Rutter (he/him)


Barrie Thomas Rutter OBE is an actor and the founder and former artistic director of the Northern Broadsides theatre company based in Halifax, West Yorkshire. In 2000 he won the title 'Creative Briton 2000'. In 2003 he received the Sam Wanamaker Award jointly with Stephen Unwin for their work promoting Shakespeare in the regions. In 2005 he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters from the University of Bradford, and in 2018 the same degree from Lancaster University. Barrie was appointed Officer of the (OBE) in the 2015 New Year Honours for services to drama.


Luke Adamson (he/him)


Luke is an actor, writer and director who graduated from ALRA in 2011. He has worked as an actor all around the country with companies such as Northern Broadsides, York Theatre Royal, Pilot Theatre and Slung Low, and has created work that has been seen from Berwick upon Tweed to Penzance. He has been nominated for Off West End Awards as both an actor and director and his writing has won awards in recent years. For four years he was the Associate Director at the award winning Hope Theatre in Islington. He is committed to increasing opportunities for artists from underrepresented backgrounds. He joined the ALRA board in 2015.


Jane Anderson (she/her)


Jane Anderson is a Casting Director for TV and Film, and has cast for BAFTA & Award winning productions. She has extensive knowledge of many aspects of the industry, having grown up with family and friends in the performing arts, specialising in performance photography in her Contemporary Media degree, as well as working in production for over 3 years; covering feature films, commercials and an animation series. She is passionate about fair representation within the industry, and as she works extensively with young performers, is keen to give support and opportunities to many starting out. She is a Londoner, but moved to the North for a better life, and has immersed herself in the North West’s cultural scene. She is also a Trustee of 53Two Arts Venue in Manchester.


Tony Bradshaw (he/him)


Tony Bradshaw is a former Wigan secondary head teacher. He was born in East Lancashire but spent his married life in Wigan. On retirement from headship he worked as an assessor in schools in the North West as well as an advisor to school governing bodies. For fifteen years he was a member of the Board of Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust. He is currently a trustee of the Young Persons Centre in Wigan and treasurer of his local church. He is a Paul Harris Fellow and past president of Wigan Rotary Club. He became a trustee of Alra in 2011.


Harry Cowd (he/him)

Chair of the Trustees

Former roles: Headteacher of inner city primary school; Churchwarden; Chair: POLKA Theatre; Chair of Governors; Leader and Deputy Mayor, Merton Council; Chair of Merton, Sutton & Wandsworth Health Authority; Chair of College of Nursing and Midwifery; Member of Primary Care Groups; Scout Leader; Sunday School Teacher.


Ben Cole


Hailing originally from Cornwall, Ben grew up on a small farm on the North Cornish coast. He later moved to London and trained at ALRA on the 3 year acting course graduating in 2013. Since then he has worked as both an actor and director.


Philip Hirst


Retired after a career in the Building Society industry. Trustee of Wigan Borough Community Partnership and a member of several other charities and community organisations including Wigan Rotary Club. Awarded MBE In 2017.


Michael Lyle (he/him)


Michael Lyle trained at ALRA. His work in theatre includes Seasons Greetings at The Stephen Joseph Theatre, Amadeus at The National Theatre, No Villain at Trafalgar Studios; A Super Happy Story About Feeling Super Sad for Hull Truck/Silent Uproar; Screwface at the Bush Theatre; Belle: Rapid Rewrites and The Sexual Awakening of Peter Mayo at Theatre503; The History Boys at Theatre Royal Bath and West Yorkshire Playhouse; Home Theatre (UK) at Theatre Royal Stratford East; Talking to Alice at Greenwich Theatre; This One Goes Out to All My Motherf*ckers Back Home at the Soho Theatre; Every Bit of My Love and Aim of the Game for Old Vic New Voices; Sweet Love Remember’d at Shakespeare’s Globe; Christmas Reloaded at the Old Red Lion; For the Best at the Unicorn; and Lord of the Flies at Watford Palace Theatre. TV includes The Last Hours of Laura K. Film includes My Grandson Charlotte, Number One Fan, New World and Nuryan.


Michelle Nicholson (she/her)


Michelle Nicholson has worked in the charity sector and the visual and performing arts for the last 17 years. She has worked in theatre finance, fundraising delivering both capital and revenue fundraising and now manages events at HOME Manchester in the cinemas, theatres, gallery and event space.


Kevin Shaw


Kevin recently became the Chief Executive and Artistic Director of The Albany Theatre in Coventry, with a brief to further develop the company and oversee the refurbishment and extension of the beautiful Art Deco Theatre. He previously spent 17 years as Chief Executive and Artistic Director at Oldham Coliseum Theatre where he directed more than 70 productions, including 15 pantomimes (which he co-wrote). He also founded the Coliseum’s thriving learning and engagement department giving thousands of participants opportunities to engage with theatre. Before this he spent 7 years in the New Forest as Artistic Director of Forest Forge, a rural touring theatre company and 4 years as Associate Director at Salisbury Playhouse. Kevin has a strong commitment to developing creative talent, providing a platform and professional support for work from emerging theatre companies and artists and is delighted to be a Trustee of ALRA.


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Dr Ellie Johnson Searle (she/her)

Interim Principal

Dr Ellie Johnson Searle is Interim Principal and joined ALRA in 2021. She has extensive experience working in the education, not for profit, public and business sectors with a focus on developing organisations and change management. Ellie has worked strategically and hands-on with a range of organisations of all shapes and sizes, and their stakeholders. Her previous roles include Interim Executive Director Business Operations at Health Data Research UK; Interim Chief Operating Officer at the Rosalind Franklin Institute and The Place. Ellie is passionate about people and their access to achievement.

Chris Hill

Chris Hill (he/him)

Senior Leadership and Dean

Chris trained on the MFA in Theatre directing at Birkbeck and at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He has worked as a director and assistant director with companies including The National Theatre, Opera North, Theatre Royal Bath, Headlong Theatre Company, Bolton Octagon, Birmingham REP, and West Yorkshire Playhouse, where he spent a year as resident assistant director. He regularly acts as a mentor for emerging theatre makers, from supervising young companies on behalf of the National Theatre as part of the Connections project, to advising the creators of a large-scale intergenerational dance theatre piece in Kani City, Japan.


Lynn Howes (she/her)

Senior Leadership and Head of Marketing

Lynn joined the ALRA team in 2015 and has a passion for outreach and the arts. She holds a degree in Drama and English, a diploma in Acting from LAMDA, an MA in Applied and Participatory Theatre and a performing arts teaching qualification. She has taken many CPD courses in aspects of Marketing and Communication and, as a former actor and published playwright, she appreciates the journey the students are on and has a fully rounded experience of the industry they are training to join.


Aaron Lowman (he/him)

Senior Leadership and Academic Registrar

Aaron is a Doctorate student currently researching neoliberalism and Higher Education policy. He is a member of QAA’s Advisory Committee on Degree Awarding Powers, a School Governor and an Inspector with the British Accreditation Council. Aaron was previously a TEF Subject Pilot Main Panel Member and Deputy Chair of a Subject Panel, he was also a member of the QAA’s Strategic Student Advisory Board. He joined in ALRA in 2017.


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Elen Benfield (she/her)

Head of Embodiment (North)

Elen is a graduate of both ALRA North's Foundation Acing Diploma and BA Acting Course. Since studying at ALRA, Elen now works as an actor and as a member of creative teams as a movement director, assistant director and director. She also regularly teaches acting, singing and musical theatre to classes of varying ages and abilities. Elen is really excited to be able to come back to ALRA North to lead the Foundation Course as she understands first-hand what a crucial step it can be in the journeys of some individuals through their actor training.


Kate Coogan (she/her)

MA Professional Acting Course Leader (North)

Kate Coogan trained at the Manchester Polytechnic School of Theatre. She is an actor, writer and director. As an actor she has worked for the Royal Exchange, HOME, Library Theatre, West Yorkshire Playhouse and Bolton Octagon, receiving two MEN Best Actress nominations. Some of her TV and film credits are Emmerdale, No Offence, The Mill, LIFE, Northern Soul, Diana and I, Attack of the Adult Babies and Dark Encounters amongst others. As a director she most recently directed Consent for Roots Theatre Company at Hope Theatre, Liverpool and Men Chase, Women Choose for We Are People Zoo, which premiered at the Greater Manchester Fringe before heading up to Edinburgh. As a practitioner, she specialises in somatic actor training.


Aiden Crawford (he/him)

Head of Foundation (North)

Aiden trained in Musical Theatre at ArtsEd before continuing his training on the One Year Acting Course at The Oxford School of Drama. As an actor and dancer, he performed in theatre productions across London and the UK and worked with companies such as Outbox Theatre and the Kindling Collective with whom he is an Artistic Associate. He also spent time in South Korea as a Resident Creative at FutureLearn’s Gyeonggi Campus. Aiden holds an MA in Movement: Directing and Teaching from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and has worked at leading drama schools and institutions including the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, East 15 and the Guildford School of Acting.


Lucy Curtis (she/they)

Associate Dean (South)

Lucy is a theatre director who trained on the MFA Theatre Directing course at Birkbeck, the National Theatre Studio Directors Course led by Katie Mitchell and RADA. She then trained and was resident at the Royal Exchange Theatre under Sarah Frankcom. Lucy was Artistic Director of award winning theatre company, Changing Face, from 2014-2017. She has directed for the Southwark Playhouse, Arcola, York Theatre Royal, Bristol Old Vic, Oxford Playhouse, Park Theatre and Queens Theatre Hornchurch, amongst others. She has been an associate and assistant director for the Bristol Old Vic, Royal Exchange, RADA, and the Young Vic. Lucy has worked in drama schools for several years including East 15, Mountview, Fourth Monkey, Identity, ALRA and RADA.


Dermot Daly

Acting Tutor (North)

Dermot has been teaching for many years and draws on his extensive experience within the industry as a performer and creative - this experience has seen him work with the likes of the Theatre Royal Stratford East, Talawa, Young Vic, Market Theatre Johannesburg, the Guardian, Leeds Playhouse, BBC, Channel 4, ITV Studios, the British Film Institute and the New York Institute of Dance and Education. In addition to working as an actor, voice over artist and theatre and filmmaker he is an Associate Artist of Freedom Studios and a Creative Associate of the Geraldine Connor Foundation

Chris Hill

Chris Hill (he/him)

Senior Leadership and Dean

Chris trained on the MFA in Theatre directing at Birkbeck and at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He has worked as a director and assistant director with companies including The National Theatre, Opera North, Theatre Royal Bath, Headlong Theatre Company, Bolton Octagon, Birmingham REP, and West Yorkshire Playhouse, where he spent a year as resident assistant director. He regularly acts as a mentor for emerging theatre makers, from supervising young companies on behalf of the National Theatre as part of the Connections project, to advising the creators of a large-scale intergenerational dance theatre piece in Kani City, Japan.


Mary Irwin (she/her)

Course Leader, MFA Linklater Teaching Practice (Voice and Theatre Arts)

Mary Irwin is Professor Emerita in the UNSCA School of Drama, where she taught voice, speech and Shakespeare from 1995-2018. She was Head of Voice & Speech from 2001-2016, and twice received Teaching Excellence Awards. A Designated Linklater Voice Teacher, Mary also holds an MA in Voice Studies (CSSD). She has assisted Kristin Linklater at the Kristin Linklater Voice Centre in Orkney. Other teaching: RCSSD; The Linklater Center (NYC); Laura Henry Studio (LA); Red Bull Theater’s Shakespeare & Jacobean Workshops; Cherokee Storytelling Workshop (Museum of the Cherokee Indian); Sarah Lawrence College. Professional coaching includes: King Lear (Northern Stage); The White Devil, Mac Beth (Red Bull Theater); Cost of Living (Manhattan Theatre Club); And So We Walked: An Artist’s Journey Along the Trail of Tears, Master Harold … and the boys, Noises Off, (Triad Stage); Our Town (Palm Beach DramaWorks); The Dresser (Clarence Brown); Misalliance (Alabama Shakespeare Festival). NC Shakespeare Festival, seven seasons.


Yusuf Khamisa (he/him)

Associate Dean (North)

Yusuf is originally from Salford and trained as an Actor at London's ArtsEd. His teaching experience has been in post 16 education, foundation, and BA Hons. He has taught at many Drama Schools, most recently as Head of Foundation Acting and BA Senior Acting Tutor at ArtsEd and he was the Head of Live and Recorded at ALRA North before taking on his current role. Yusuf is also the Outreach and Development Manager for the IRIS Theatre Covent Garden. He has worked professionally as an actor across the UK and has directed plays in London’s West End, the National Theatre London and The Soho Theatre as well as several regional theatre credits.


Gemma Maddock (she/her)

Head of Embodiment (South)

Gemma originally trained as an actor at the Ballarat Academy of Performing Arts, in Australia, before travelling across the globe to train as a Voice Coach at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama (RCSSD) London, gaining her MFA in Voice Studies. Gemma has taught at many leading drama schools and universities in London including Rose Bruford, Arts Ed, East 15, Trinity Laban and St Mary’s University. More recently she worked as the resident voice coach for the UK and Ireland tour of Matilda the Musical. She has also worked on other West End and touring productions such as, Strictly Ballroom the Musical, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, The Wild Party, The Railway Children & Lin Manuel Miranda’s In The Heights. Gemma is also the co-Artistic Director of The Kindling Collective, an ensemble based Theatre Company focused on making physical, visceral, sensory rich performances.


George Richmond-Scott (he/they)

Head of Live and Recorded Performance (South)

George is a director, voice coach and educator from London. He completed the Theatre Directing MFA at Birkbeck College with distinction after twelve years as a voice and text coach including work at the RSC alongside Cicely Berry, LAMDA, RADA Business and Davidson College, North Carolina. He also mentors for the Metro Centre charity. Until lockdown he was Associate Director of ‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’ at the Apollo Theatre (West End). Directing includes ‘Blood Wedding’ (Omnibus Theatre- OffWestEnd Award Nominations), ‘A Long Morning Quiet’, ‘The Last Appointment’ and ‘Musical Differences’ (Crucible Studio), ‘Handbag’ (Birmingham MAC & Komedia Edinburgh), The Rivals (Birmingham Conservatoire), ‘The Provok’d Wife’ & ‘Foxfinder’ (LAMDA). Other Associate/Assistant Directing includes ‘Julius Caesar’ for Robert Hastie, ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ for Phillip Breen and ‘What We Wished For’ for Emily Hutchinson (Sheffield Theatres); ‘In Arabia We’d All Be Kings’ for Michael Fentiman (RADA) and Peter Gill’s ‘Small Change’ (Omnibus Theatre).


Mo Sesay (he/him)

Acting Tutor (South)

As an actor Mo has appeared at the National Theatre in Kwame Kwei Armah’s Fix Up & The Caucasian Chalk Circle. At Shakespeare’s Globe, Tullus Aufidius in Coriolanus and Hamlet in Under The Black Flag. In tv he played a series lead Midnight Rawlings in Soldier, Soldier and guests leads in Holby City and EastEnders. Mo played the lead of Oliver in Gurinder Chada’s feature film, Bhaji On The Beach and the lead in the movie Young Soul Rebels, winner of the Critics’ Prize at Cannes. Mo has taught at Rada and at Wac Arts in Belsize Park. He is a commissioned writer of TV shows and screenplays.


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Samantha Ackerley (she/her)

Resident Designer and Wardrobe Supervisor (North)

Sam completed her BA (Hons) degree in Design for Performance at Edge Hill University in 2013. Whilst studying there she was awarded an On-Course Excellence Scholarship in Creative Arts. Sam has designed for shows including ‘A Dybbuk’, ‘Peter Pan: The British Musical’, ‘Les Miserables: School Edition’ ‘Grease’ & 'Steel Magnolias'. Sam has also worked as Assistant Curator for exhibitions including ‘Exclaim!’ at The Lowry and ‘Critical Costume’ Symposium at Edge Hill University. Sam has been designing shows for Alra North since 2016 including 'Swallows and Amazons', 'Jerusalem', 'Once a Catholic' & 'The Last Days of Judas Iscariot'. Sam is a creative individual with experience in set design, model making, technical drawing, costume design and budget management. Sam also runs the Wardrobe department based at Alra North.

Mell Bird (she/her)

Resident Production and Technical Coordinator (North)

Mell initially studied in Technical Theatre achieving a Triple Distinction at Pendleton College. She then furthered her training and went on to complete her BA Hons in Professional Production Skills specialising in Stage Management at Guildford School of Acting. Mell has worked in all aspects of Stage Management in a freelance and residential capacity.

Chris Mark-Hilfiker (he/him)

Resident Technical and Production Co-ordinator (South)

Chris has previously worked as Technical Manager for Little Angel Theatre and as Production Manager for Inspector Sands and Ridiculusmus. Additionally, he has toured as Technical Stage Manager for the Opera UpClose productions of Maria Stuarda; With A Song in Her Heart; Eugine Onegin; The Magic Flute; Ulla's Odyssey; Carmen; La Traviata; and their Olivier award-winning La Boheme, full mask company Vamos Theatres' The Best Thing; Nursing Lives; and Finding Joy, Inspector Sands childrens' show Rock Pool, Ridiculusmus's The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland; and Total Football; Analogue Theatre's Fringe First Award Winner 2401 Objects. His design credits include Lighting Design for The Wishing Tree, Sleeping Beauty in the Woods, Go Noah Go, Let's Fly (Little Angel Theatre), and relighting for Emily Rising (Little Angel Theatre) and La Boheme (Opera UpClose).


Ria Tubman (she/her)

Head of Estates, Resources and Production (South)

Ria trained in Technical Theatre at Middlesex University and has been working as a Stage and Production Manager since 2000. Since starting her career as DSM at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield Ria has gone on to work at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Buxton Opera House, Hackney Empire, as well as working extensively in the West End and on many touring productions, Ria has also worked at many music events and festivals such as Glastonbury.

Academic and Student Services

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Sarah Brandon (she/her)

Office Secretary (North)


Patricia Broadhurst (she/her)

Student Counsellor and Welfare and Safeguarding Officer


Richard Cruden (he/him)

ICT Engineer and AV Technician

Aaron Lowman (he/him)

Academic Registrar

Tom Perrin (he/him)

Student Experience Officer (North)


April Sibal (she/her)

Academic Services Officer

Unique Spencer (she/her)

Student Experience Officer (South)


Dylan Stafford (he/him)

Head of Registry


Ellie Walker-Smith (she/her)

Head of Academic Services


Sue Watson (she/her)

Office Secretary (South)

Culture and Creativity

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Sonia Watson-Fowler (she-her)

Equality and Inclusion Cohesion Lead

Sonia Watson-Fowler (she/her) is a consultant, writer, performer, entrepreneur and founder of Inclusive Communication Consultancy (ICC), providing executive and education Inclusivity, Equality and Effective Communication workshops, conflict mediation services and coaching, as well as creative writing sessions. She has worked as a legal caseworker and spent over a decade in Further Education where she managed central college services and events, was a personal tutor and College Governor. With an MA in Education, focusing on Effective Communication and Leadership & Management Postgraduate accreditations, she has worked extensively with a wide range of educational establishments and businesses focused on addressing issues of inclusiveness and equitable practice, with a primary focus on Black Lives Matter. Sonia performs acoustic sets and is a poet, providing commissioned works for private clients as well as bespoke pieces for individuals at social and business events. She is also a Trustee of Bird College Conservatoire for Dance and Musical Theatre and joined the ALRA team in 2021.

Working Groups

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Alex Chang (he/him)

Chair of Graduate Advisory Board

Alex graduated from ALRA South in 2015. He is an experienced actor, producer and co-founder of Paradox House; a new home built by filmmakers, for filmmakers, where previous films have played at A-list film festivals around the world, working with both Oscar nominees and rising talent alike. Alex has worked in stage, television, film and commercial roles and with brands including Braun, Wrigleys, Mars, BBC and Sky. Alex executive produced ‘Anna’ by Dekel Berenson that premiered at Festival de Cannes in 2019, was nominated for a Palme d’Or, has been selected at over 300 festivals worldwide, and and won a British Independent Film Award. He also produced an upcoming documentary on World Heavyweight Kickboxing Champion, Michael Smolik, and his next film 'The Blue Mauritius' is slated for 2021. Alex is also producing a number of feature films and tv series’ that address themes including social justice, xenophobia and representation of the Global Majority as a whole. "To add further value to the student experience, as well as organisational accountability, ALRA is liaising with our Graduate Advisory Board. The Board is part of a dedicated support network for students to access during their training at ALRA. Throughout the academic year members will provide professional enrichment, groups talks and one-to-one guidance.


Daneka Etchells (she/they)

Chair of LGBTQ+ Working Group

Daneka is an actor, writer and an ALRA 2018 graduate. She has worked extensively across film and theatre with National Theatre, Northern Stage, Theatre by the Lake, CAST Doncaster, Northern Broadsides, The Customs House, Liverpool Everyman, BBC and StudioCanal. As a writer, she’s written for Paines Plough, Theatre by the Lake, Emmerson and Ward and has had poetry published nationally and internationally. She is very passionate about her queer, working class identity, championing it in all of her work, and wants to inspire other students to find the strength of their individuality within their art. "The LGBTQ+ Working Group is an independently chaired group to give space and voice to ALRA's current LGBTQIA+ students. The cross-campus student group meet 2-3 times a term in a safe, confidential environment. The chair feeds back on the progress and actions on the proposals from the previous meetings, followed by an open discussion to raise/highlight anything else, finding kindredship and inter-community support. As the chair of the group, I work as a liaising point with ALRA, consulting on change to queer policy and framework such as discussing events, texts and other work celebrating queerness, embedding thinking on sexuality and gender within ALRA’s pedagogical future, facilitating capacity for achievable and equitable excellence for LGBTQIA+ students, and holding ALRA accountable to equity, appropriate behaviour and inclusion.


Adam Fenton (he/him)

Chair of Disability Working Group

Adam is a disabled/neurodiverse writer, performer, and former BA Acting student at ALRA North. Since graduating he has been creating work that challenges conceptions around difference and explores the power of uniqueness. He has been involved with Graeae Theatre Company, Oldham Coliseum, Box of Tricks Theatre, Take Back Theatre, DANC, The Royal Court, and the BBC, taking part in various projects and development programmes. Adam is passionate about championing accessibility in actor training both at ALRA and the industry as a whole. "The Disability Working Group is a support structure for students and graduates who identify as disabled, neurodiverse, having a mental health condition or any access needs. It is set up as a safe space where actors with differences can have their voices heard and have open and frank discussions pertaining to their experience of navigating actor training and the arts industry. It also stands as a channel for current students to talk about barriers they are facing during training, these ideas and issues being brought to ALRA, and work to be done on creating solutions that benefit everyone. The DWG aims to work with ALRA to create a model of actor training that is fully accessible. This includes accessible facilities, disabled representation and visibility in staff, changes to policy, and the restructuring of ALRA using the social model of disability.


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Samuel Rossiter

Samuel Rossiter (he/him)

Marketing Officer (Website and SEO)

Lynn Howes (she/her)

Head of Marketing and Communications


Nina Robinson (she/her)

Marketing Officer


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Agnes Rato (she/her)

Finance Manager

Human Resources

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Nicola Ellison (she/her)

Human Resources Manager


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Darren Penton (he/him)

Facilities Coordinator (South)

David Smith (he/him)

Facilities Coordinator (North)

Caroline Penton

Caroline Penton (she/her)

Resident Cleaner (South)

Rebecca Green (she/her)

Resident Cleaner (North)

Academy of Live and Recorded Arts