The Inimitable Ms. Ashley Grey
Written by: Violet Myers
“All this talk of Gary Kemp and I’ve strangely gone back to my 1980’s self,” says Ashley Grey, the Community Outreach Officer at Arts and Media School Islington, a school that’s rapidly gaining a reputation for its talented students and increasingly excellent GCSE results. This is a school that was once upon a time one of the poorest schools in the country, with only 5% of students achieving 5 GCSEs at grade A*-C. The school then gained notoriety as the subject of a BBC fly-on-wall style documentary, which revealed it to be underfunded and poorly equipped.
But that was 16 years ago and boy have things changed. Due to its genuinely passionate staff, hands-on parents and the steerage of headteacher Diana Osagie, the school has come a long way and it’s not looking back either. With some seriously talented students, Ofsted reports showing that the school is within the top 40% in the country for its core subjects and a real emphasis on aiming high, this school means business… with added jazz hands.
Ashley is a ball of energy, fiercely determined to help the school she loves and earnest in her endeavours. It’s her mission to get as much of the community involved with the school as possible, to establish partnerships and raise funds – a difficult endeavour for state-supported schools. She understands how to build relationships, a crucial part of creating a successful fundraising and awareness initiative. Ashley is the co-organiser (alongside The Telegraph’s resident Music Critic Neil McCormick) of their upcoming event ‘Up Close and Personal with Gary Kemp’, the proceeds of which will go directly to the school.
We spoke to Ashley about her life as a North Londoner, her fondness for Spandau Ballet and the school that she has dedicated herself to.
She laughs, fondly recalling the days when Gary Kemp and his band Spandau Ballet ruled the airwaves. She’s refreshingly lively, passionate about her job and certainly not the kind of person you would expect to find working in a school, but then again this is no ordinary school.
“I mean the current situation with the curriculum is that we should be sitting kids in classrooms and not doing anything creative. But our young people respond really well to the arts that we do, it seems to make them well rounded and appreciative of culture.”
Their focus on the arts appears to be working, with talents such as Jermaine Jackman, winner of The Voice 2014, and Kaya Scodelario of Skins fame, counting themselves as proud members of their alumni. Other former students, including those who have reached the heady heights of the university world by getting into Cambridge, happily return to the school that helped them so much, in the hopes of inspiring other kids to continue their education.
Up Close and Personal with Gary Kemp is the first in a series of celebrity interviews. With the help of Neil McCormick, renowned music journalist, whose son is in Year Seven at the school, AMSI’s corridors are about to be filled with famous faces.
“…Those opportunities don’t come around very often and we’re very grateful, we want it to be a success!” Adds Ashley, who’s not only an ex-punk with some new romantic tendencies (she still loves The Clash and happily treats us to her own rendition of Spandau Ballet’s ‘Gold’ while we chat), but is also tirelessly working to make sure the school is getting the community support it needs and deserves. She recently managed to secure some funding from local estate agents Davies & Davies, which will go directly towards paying for a student to attend a school trip to Barcelona with their classmates. Without this sort of support from the local community, that student wouldn’t have been able to go on the trip. It’s potentially life changing stuff.
“70% of our students are on free school meals, so what’s very important to us is that they not only have a good education but also a good life experience whilst they’re at school. We want them to be able to access London’s opportunities. The money raised from these sorts of events will help us to send them on trips and experience new activities that they wouldn’t have had the opportunity to experience before.”
The night will be an excellent opportunity for fans to throw on a ruffled shirt, re-live those magical hair-sprayed days of the 80’s and learn more about their favourite new romantic hunk. All of this whilst raising funds for a fantastic school, who may very well have the next musical superstar within their walls. Watch out Gary, there’s a new generation coming and they’ve got synthesisers!
Up Close And Personal With Gary Kemp
Thursday May 26th, 7.30pm
Taking place in the intimate Barton Theatre
(Arts & Media School Islington, Turle Road, Finsbury Park, London)
Tickets available here
North Four are chuffed to be the media partners of Up Close and Personal and are proud supporters of the Arts and Media School Islington. Now go buy some tickets!
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