School of rock: London's Roundhouse comes to the rescue

The Roundhouse isn't just a legendary venue - it also tutors troubled teenagers in the arts. And this week some of Britain's biggest stars have been enlisted to help. Simon Tait reports
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The Independent Culture

Kyle Thorne, a 24-year-old unemployed Londoner, will be one of the greeters at the Roundhouse's Rock'n'Roll Circus fundraising gala on Thursday, showing guests to their seats for the auction and show. "Five hundred pound a ticket? They didn't tell me that," he says. "I'm gonna have to be per-lite, man!"

Kyle Thorne, a 24-year-old unemployed Londoner, will be one of the greeters at the Roundhouse's Rock'n'Roll Circus fundraising gala on Thursday, showing guests to their seats for the auction and show. "Five hundred pound a ticket? They didn't tell me that," he says. "I'm gonna have to be per-lite, man!"

Many of those he welcomes will be spending a lot more at the event, for the benefit of Kyle and thousands of other young people like him who use the Roundhouse Studios to help turn their often troubled lives around. Roundhouse's chief executive, Marcus Davey, hopes the evening will bring in £1m of the £2m a year it costs to keep the studios operating.

As they take their seats, the 600 guests will know all about what goes on in the underground warren of workspaces beneath the auditorium, because their black-tie and posh-frock evening will have begun with a tour of the professionally equipped studios, through which 12,000 young people aged 13 to 25 have passed since they opened 22 months ago.

Celebrities have given freely and imaginatively for the charity auction, which will be led by the soul diva Beverley Knight. Donors include Emma Thompson, Helen Mirren, Terry Gilliam, Stephen Fry, Jonny Wilkinson, Martin Johnson and Sting.

And if the evening's auctioneer gets his gavel working to best effect, one item alone could raise half a million: Antony Gormley has donated Insider XI Pointing North, a life-size cast-iron sculpture. "It's fabulously generous," says Davey. "Antony's been a friend of this place for a long time." Sir Peter Blake is another long-standing friend of the Roundhouse: his contribution is a signed proof of his screen-print portrait of Joy Division's Ian Curtis. For the sporty, the Roundhouse's new chairman, Travelex founder Lloyd Dorfman, is giving a private lunch with cricket stars Brett Lee and Adam Gilchrist during the Australians' Ashes tour here next year. Another appealing lot is afternoon tea in a Mayfair hotel, the tab for which will be picked up by the hotel's owner, Sir Rocco Forte. Accompanying the scones and cucumber sandwiches will be Alan Bennett and Michael Palin. Also on offer, from Sonia Friedman Productions, following a performance of Polly Stenham's hit play That Face, is dinner with the play's star, Lindsay Duncan, as well as with Simon Callow, both designated ambassadors of the gala evening.

Anthony Horowitz, the children's author, is offering an unusual opportunity. "The winner will be the subject of a horror story in my next book," he says. "It's not just using their name, as I've done in the past; I'm going to take their life details and build the narrative around them. The more they bid, the more horrible I'll make them." The book, working title Aargh!, is due to be published by Walker Books next year.

"I'm a Camden boy and I used to come here in the old days," Horowitz explains. "Recently I've being going into prisons and detention centres working with young people, and I know how important this kind of work is... The real problem is that they often feel trapped because they're not being given enough to do to express themselves."

For the gala show, Knight is being joined by Nick Mason, the only constant member of Pink Floyd since the band performed at the famous International Times party at the Roundhouse in 1966, along with another sometime Pink Floyd musician, Ray Cooper. Also in the lineup are Suggs, Peter Sarstedt, and Jon McClure, front man for the indie band Reverend and the Makers.

In addition, a graduate of the studios, Beth Mburu, will be performing. After four years attending music projects at the Roundhouse, she has become a successful singer-songwriter, appearing on television, radio and with ENO.

"The studios have been an enormous success, but what we want to do is narrow the gap between them and the main performing stage, so that the skills learnt there – it might be performing, or as TV crew, or broadcasting because we have our own Roundhouse Radio – can be tested there," says Davey.

The studios are why the toy tycoon Sir Torquil Norman committed a large part of his fortune to buying and refurbishing the Roundhouse. For £2 a session, anybody in the 13-25 age group can learn a wide range of disciplines: photography, music production, journalism, song writing, TV production, poetry, drama, musical theatre, band rehearsal, game design and more.

Kyle Thorne came from a broken home; he was homeless and jobless when he was steered towards the Roundhouse last summer by Cardboard Citizens, the professional theatre company for the homeless. Last month, he made his professional debut performing with the National Youth Theatre. "Being a greeter is not what I would choose to do, but I'll do anything for the studios because they changed my life," he says.

Lorraine Faissal, the studios' community development manager, has been with the project for eight years, from when it was only an outreach programme. "There is nothing like this anywhere else," she says. "What has happened since we opened is a dramatic increase in contact with artists. Paul McCartney came and talked to them; Ewan McGregor; James Brown listened to a CD a group had made here and gave his opinion – how else could that happen?

"Young people get such a bad press and you feel that so much talent, which we see here, is being sucked out. We need to develop those young people's creativity, and here they are in a safe environment where they know it's all about who you are, not where you're coming from."

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