Collingwood Learning is a truly international family. It’s not solely the six-strong team at our Yorkshire HQ that brings our projects to life – quite literally – but a whole network of actors and freelance theatre teams, too.
To give you an insight into the talent behind each scene, we want to introduce you to a different member of the family each month. This time, we’re finding out more about ‘the boss’ Chris Simes, who sets the strategic creative direction of the company – but can also say the alphabet backwards!
Tell us a little bit about what you do with Collingwood Learning…
I founded the company with Lindsay Richards back in 2009 – the time has flown! ‘Managing director’ is a bit of a posh term, but I look after the strategic direction of the company, develop new programmes and products, and support our growing team to bring out their considerable strengths.
I think the role suits me well as I’m from both a creative and business background, so I can wear both hats! For me, the excitement comes when we connect great creative ideas with educational objectives, and come up with a project that is really unique.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Very varied – from cashflow forecasts to scriptwriting to video calls with our international partners. I could also be jumping on a plane and heading to Africa or South America to set up a Smashed Project in that country. But, I think that’s starting to change as we grow as an organisation. I’m increasingly spending time thinking ahead about the future of Collingwood, expansion plans, and building our amazing global network.
What’s the best part of your job?
Nothing beats being in a school in another country, watching the Smashed Project – often in another language – and seeing the reaction of the kids. It’s seeing the end-product of something that started with me sat on the sofa writing the programme in 2009 with no idea where it would end up! I’m still always amazed.
Has there been a standout Collingwood moment for you thus far?
I’m lucky as I’ve witnessed a lot. Last year, Real Safeguarding Stories (a partnership between ourselves and Bradford Council) won the prize for ‘best partnership’ at the LGC Awards.
It was a huge moment in that it recognised years of development work by both partners, that was largely driven by our shared passion to make a difference. It recognised the impact we are making on raising awareness around safeguarding and was a tribute to the survivors of abuse who have bravely told us their stories.
What or who would be your dream project / storyline / sponsor?
Well, we kind of have that in The Smashed Project, and Diageo is the most brilliant sponsor. I love helping tackle underage drinking with the programme and working with our partner organisations in 23 countries.
With such an amazing network, there are so many vital educational topics we can now challenge. My dream is to grow Smashed to reach many more young people, but also use our international presence to take on new topics as well.
If one of your colleagues could win an award (industry or office-related) who would it be and why?
I’d love for James Taylor, who writes and directs a lot of our work, to win an award of some kind. His writing, both for Collingwood and in his other theatre work, is absolutely fantastic.
He has written dozens of scripts for Real Safeguarding Stories, working with survivors of abuse to give them a voice – often for the first time. It’s incredibly skilful and done with passion. His work often goes unnoticed, but he is at the centre of our creative output.
You’re in an industry that tackles a myriad of social issues, but what’s the biggest challenge facing young people in the UK at the moment?
In the UK, I believe the most pressing issue (amongst many others) is the relationship between social media and mental health. That encapsulates a wide range of issues such as online bullying and abuse, self-image, sex and relationships, gambling, careers, and more.
At its heart is that we need to build emotional awareness and resilience amongst young people, particularly in relation to how they operate in modern life. Teachers express this to me not just in the UK but many other countries where we have projects.
Which one word do you think your colleagues would use to describe you?
Entrepreneurial. That might be the kindest way they could encapsulate my good and bad traits!
And what word do you think best describes Collingwood?
Storytellers. I always come back to what we are here to do – telling powerful stories in order to change attitudes and behaviour. That sort of change needs an emotive, engaging and motivating approach to learning – something which is reflected in every project we deliver.
When you’re not at work, how do you like to spend your free time?
I’m a voracious reader – nothing too intellectual, I promise. Give me a good thriller any day.
Tell us something that people wouldn’t know when they first meet you…
For some reason I can say the alphabet backwards very quickly. Ta-da!