Carol Alevroyianni was involved in the first ever Fish Quay Festival, bringing world music to Tyneside. Now she is back in her beloved Northumberland as director of Creative Partnerships, using music and the arts to bring out the best in youngsters
ARTS and creativity have always been a big part of Carol Alevroyianni’s life. Her dad was a kit drummer with a passion for jazz and her first record as a child featured the Latin musician Tito Puente. Her son Alex named his teddy bear Sam Woodyard after the famous jazz drummer.
“I was brought up in a talented family with music, dance and art all around us. It’s been a similar experience for my sons, who are both very creative people. Nik works as a musician and Alex is a professional photographer,” says Carol.
Now, as director of Creative Partnerships Northumberland, she is able to get involved in creating opportunities for children to explore their own creativity every day. “Watching them really grow in confidence and fly with their own ideas is fantastic. We encourage young people to explore their inner creativity in music, dance and song as part of programmes of work designed to transform education. It can be very emotional and does sometimes make me cry,” she says.
“I am privileged to be in a job where I can help turn people on to the power of their own creativity – it’s incredibly inspiring and energising. It has to be one of the best jobs in the world.
“I believe your childhood shapes your life and I was lucky to have parents who were always very supportive and encouraging. My mum can make anything from fabric with nothing but a vague description and drawing to go off.
“My dad was away at sea with the Merchant Navy when we were very small and living in an old farmhouse in Seghill with Mum and various other relatives was an idyllic time with lots of freedom to explore and play.”
Creative Partnerships Northumberland has given young people across the country the opportunity to be involved in a wide range of projects.
From voice lessons from TV coaches Carrie and David Grant to making their own television programme, students have learned at the hands of a wide range of professionals.
Their most ambitious project to date was Anthem, a film with an original score made by dozens of young people and which premiered at The Sage Gateshead.
For many of the pupils involved it was a life-changing experience. “Being involved in Anthem was an amazing amount of fun,” says 14-year-old Alex Bennett, from Prudhoe High School. “I never thought that I could be part of something like that or that it would work out the way it did, especially since some of the people involved were new to music, but it did.
Andrew Pollard, 14, also from Prudhoe High School, said: “We have all got a lot out of it and we’ve made a lot of friends.”
Teachers have also been full of praise for the Creative Partnerships projects and the positive influence they have had on schools. Youngsters at Central First School in Ashington were involved in a Brazilian dance project recently, which will culminate in a special event at Alnwick Garden on August 26. “The style of teaching was wonderful,” says teacher Jennifer Stewart. “My Year One class can be challenging and has several children who need support to access the curriculum and they were all completely engaged by it. It was a wonderful experience.”
Comments like these bring a huge smile to Carol’s face. She is determined to bring out what she can in youngsters, having had something of an idyllic childhood herself. Carol, who now lives in Seaton Delaval, said: “When I was four we moved to Cullercoats and I remember endless summers on the beach playing with my brother Iain and swimming at Tynemouth open air pool with my friends. Holidays were always with my older cousins in Scotland, where I would spend hours listening to their vast singles collections,” she recalls.
“I loved school thanks to some really inspirational teachers and I have always been lucky in meeting generous people who opened doors for me at the right time. It’s great to be working with a new generation of inspirational teachers now and seeing them make a real difference to the kids they work with.
“Little things can change you for ever and I remember seeing a string quartet for the first time when I was at junior school, and being blown away by the beauty of the music and feeling the vibrations of the cello. It is still an incredibly vivid memory to this day. There is nothing quite like live music to make your hair stand on end.”
By the time Carol left school at Tynemouth she had decided she wanted to be a painter.
“But dad wanted me to do something a little more academic so we compromised and I went to Stoke to study for a BA in multi-disciplinary design and discovered a passion for photography. It was there that I met the famous fashion photographer Terence Donovan and Associated Press picture editor Horst Faas, who told me that if I really wanted to work as a photographer I should go to Europe. I left for Athens soon after graduating and didn’t come back home for another four years. It was there that I tried to make my name as a photographer. As probably the youngest, and definitely the only female photographer there at the time, I was a bit of an oddball but it was a great time.
“They say the best picture tells the whole story – and there was one picture I was particularly proud of. A Newcastle man had been arrested for drug trafficking. He had tried to escape from prison, had fallen badly and injured himself and was re-captured.
“I was the only one to photograph him outside court, in a wheelchair pushed by a police officer, his Greek wife by his side with their young daughter in a pushchair. The image really did tell the whole story – and it went in all the British national papers.”
Her years in Greece were special and exciting. It was there she met her now ex-husband John, the father of her two sons. “When I found out I was expecting my first baby I decided to come home to my family. I didn’t intend to stay, but then I found I needed my family around me. Somehow we never did go back to Athens and when Alex was about a year old I started work as an arts development officer with North Tyneside Council, where I was lucky enough to be involved in setting up the first ever Fish Quay Festival, which attracted crowds of 150,000. It was fantastic!”
After 19 years working at North Tyneside in various arts roles she applied for the post of creative director of Creative Partnerships in the Tees Valley, which led to her current role with Creative Partnerships Northumberland.
“These last five years have been truly inspirational for me. I have met and worked with people who have opened my eyes to a whole host of new ideas and possibilities. What seemed like a good theory – the idea that creativity could inspire young people to greater aspiration and confidence – has turned out to be only half the story and we are seeing significant impacts on standards in the curriculum from maths and science to English and language development. Teachers just needed the time and space to make it work. Work can become a bit of an obsession but in my free time I still take a lot of photographs and have had a couple of exhibitions over the past few years.
“My favourite saying is “Shy bairns get nowt” – in other words if you don’t try you have failed already.
“I believe that exploring your own creativity, and making the most of every opportunity that comes your way, can really transform your life for the better. It has worked for me – and now I am watching others transform their lives with Creative Partnerships. What more could I ask for?”