News Story

Jacob Simmonds is a LEAP Practitioner and member of our Youth Advisory Board. He was a member of Chichester Festival Youth Theatre, a Prologue Ambassador and recently trained at CFT as a Young Practitioner. As part of our Light a Spark fundraising campaign, Jacob shares his incredible story of how CFT has changed his life.

Please note, Jacob’s story contains references to depression, anxiety and attempted suicide.

CFYT Company members in rehearsal for The Wind in the Willows
CFYT Company members in rehearsal for The Wind in the Willows Photo by Tim Hills

I grew up in the little town of Lancing near Worthing. I was always entertaining people, making them laugh. When I was about 12, I really hit my version of rock bottom. I’d experienced a trauma and it led to depression and anxiety. I had no confidence, no self-esteem, no friends, I had nothing. I just thought there was nothing for me anymore and I went on to try to take my own life.

Through being a young carer, I had a support worker called Nicola. I remember so well, she sat me down and said ‘So what do you like doing?’, and I replied ‘Oh I like to act, I want to be an actor’. A day or two later Nicola told me about Chichester Festival Youth Theatre, how they had weekly sessions nearby, and that she thought I’d love it. And I said ‘okay!’ At that point I knew zero about CFYT. Going to that first session was really nerve- wracking and I didn't know what to expect. Everyone was so friendly, and I thought that if I keep on doing this, I'll make friends and try and forget about the past.

I was part of the Youth Theatre for four years. I loved it. I could become someone else by creating characters, and they were quite outrageous, very flamboyant, and quite funny. Becoming these characters built my confidence and I was making people laugh again like the old me. Over the years the Youth Theatre has really shaped me; it’s through Youth Theatre that I can be me. I've grown in confidence and self-esteem, I know that when things become tricky I can face them, I can do it.

One evening I was just a bit down in the dumps, and the session leader Poppy Marples noticed and we had a little chat. She told me about a great opportunity at the Theatre to be a Prologue Ambassador. It took me a whole week to apply because I was really nervous about it. I got the role in a couple of days – it was amazing! As an Ambassador I was raising the profile of the 16-30 Prologue scheme. We did some incredible things. I had the opportunity to go to London and see behind the scenes of the rehearsal of A Monster Calls. We interviewed the cast before they came here to Chichester which was fantastic. Then COVID came along and we continued meeting on Teams, coming up with ideas and promoting the scheme.

I was an Ambassador for two years, and as I was finishing I got a call from CFT about their Young Practitioner training. it involved going back into Youth Theatre but being on the other side of the table – assisting and doing the training. It was the best year. I met some incredible people and made some great friends with others on the programme. You have a lot of responsibility and I learned so much too.

After I finished the year’s training as a Young Practitioner, I became a LEAP Practitioner. I work with the Youth Theatre group in Burgess Hill and I just love it. Every week is different and I get to make a difference to the young people. At some point in our lives we've had a teacher like at school who's been there for us, and that’s what I want to do for the kids.

I also now assist Poppy with the Horsham group of adults with additional needs. I love working with this group. We create work and just have fun with it. It makes such an impact on their lives.

Last year I also joined the Youth Advisory Board. It plays a key role in CFT, we’re working closely with the Board of trustees, giving our ideas and thoughts on how we can improve the Theatre even more for young people.

I really appreciate everything that CFT have done for me. I’ve grown as a person and I really admire all the time and energy they put behind their projects. I know some people are not as lucky as me, and that's why I want to help young people. I’m just hugely grateful and there’s more to come from me yet!

Been inspired by Jacob’s story?

Support our Light a Spark campaign and help us give more young people magical first experiences of theatre.

The CFT Youth Advisory Board are stood outside in front of CFT, smiling at the camera
Youth Advisory Board