“Building a relationship with the children and watching them grow and develop remains the most special part of my job. It’s been a wonderful part of my life and works because it fits around the family, I can do school drop offs and pick-ups and I don’t ever have to miss a special event because I choose my own hours.”
Meet Jessica Chandler-Smith, a franchisee within the Razzamataz Theatre Schools network. She launched her first school in Brentwood in Essex in September 2017 and since then has gone on to open in new territories, offer numerous additional classes and brought in various team members to work alongside her as new business owners. This is her story.
Explain your expansion
I opened the school in Brentwood in September 2017 and within the first term, we had already broken even, which is incredible for a new business. The demand for our services was such that I decided to open a Wednesday school to make it more accessible for people that couldn’t come to the Saturday school. The success of this led me to open a school in Hornchurch in 2019 but when covid hit in March 2020, this meant that I couldn’t use the original venue so we opened in Romford so the children still had somewhere they could get to. After all restrictions were lifted, we decided to keep Romford going and relaunch in Hornchurch and to do this, I was lucky enough that my sister Felicity decided to come on board to help, after she left her corporate role in London. One of my team members Kasey also expressed an interest in becoming a franchisee so in September 2021, I launched a school in Thurrock with her. This has proved very successful, and we have just launched a mid-week school in Thurrock and opened a school in Billericay. We have also bought a school in Chelmsford that was a resale and will be re-launching in September 2023.
Creating community in Essex
It’s a privilege to work with so many children and families in Essex. Shaping the future of our community is a wonderful experience and supporting all children, especially teenagers who have numerous challenges, is something that brings me great satisfaction.
New schools and classes
We have a new class called Tots in Chelmsford, Brentwood and Hornchurch. This is a melodies, imagination and movement classes for children aged 2-3 with their parent or adult, designed around the Government Guidelines for early year’s development. We are so excited to be bringing this class because it is special for children and families to start their Razzamataz journey together. When they look back on photos, it will be a lovely memory of how they started in performing arts.
In all new classes and locations, the main thing we want to do is build self-esteem in children. As a school community, we are very conscious of the effects of social media and what it is doing to children’s confidence. The singing, dancing and acting are all techniques that we teach, but the bigger picture is ensuring our children have the life skills to reach their full potential.
Working with friends and family
When I initially bought into the Razzamataz franchise, I didn’t really think much beyond the school and making that a success. It’s been an unexpected bonus being able to work with my sister and best friends, there’s so much loyalty in the schools and it really is a close business. The one thing I am good at is understanding that I can’t do everything and to create the best experience for the children, it is important to bring people with me on this journey. I also think that it’s great that the students know that I’ve been successful, I’m ambitious but I don’t have a degree so haven’t followed a traditional route. I want all our students to see there are many different paths that they can follow.
Being part of a franchise network
The Head Office at Razzamataz have supported me throughout my journey and this mass expansion just wouldn’t be possible without them. It’s everything from territory maps to all the wonderful additional classes and the incredible student opportunities such as performing on a West End stage or at Disneyland Paris. It’s been a wonderful part of my life and works because it fits around the family, I can do school drop offs and pick-ups and I don’t ever have to miss a special event because I choose my own hours. If you love the arts, are creative and want a role that works around your commitments, I would definitely recommend it.
Future and long-term goals
We have just agreed on a big project with Lakeside Shopping Centre where we will be involved with Lakeside’s Got Talent. We will be there and at Meadow Shopping Centre in Chelmsford throughout the summer offering free workshops for local children to try. We will also be at summer events in Brentwood so would love people to come over and say hi. There will also be new classes with the launch of Razz Act in Thurrock and Razz Street in Romford and Hornchurch. When we return in September, schools will be busy with three casts going to perform at The Shaftesbury Theatre in the West End and our Christmas productions in various venues. As part of our final expansion plans, we will be looking at Maldon as well as offering further midweek schools to increase accessibility for families.
What it means to be a Razzamataz Principal
Building a relationship with the children and watching them grow and develop remains the most special part of my job. Lots of the students have been with me for six years and being part of their childhood memories and a positive influence in their lives is a privilege. We want them to learn to be comfortable with who they are and take this with them throughout their lives. We believe our Razzamataz community can then go out and spread further good in the world.