There aren’t many 16-year-olds with the drive and determination to set up their own company, but talented dancer Zoe Jackson’s love for performing arts and the discipline gained gave her just that.
The north Londoner initially thought of the idea that would turn into her business because she needed help financially to subsidise a training course. ‘One of the reasons I started Living the Dream was because the Performing Arts in St Albans was ridiculously expensive – that was one of the downfalls,’ says Zoe. ‘When I was 16 I got into the National Youth Theatre to do a two-week training course and it was about £2,000 for the course fees, which my parents couldn’t afford. They sent me fund-raising packs and “Oh, you can do car washes and car boot sales…” and I thought, no thanks. I decided to put on a show to raise money. With loads of my friends I convinced my school to give me the theatre for free and we called it Living the Dream.’
What sets Living the Dream apart from other performing arts organisations is the fact it is run by young people, for young people. Zoe’s journey began five years ago and now the 22-year-old’s business is growing from strength to strength, with the launch of a media company and not-for-profit organisation the Dream Foundation that offers free performing arts training to youngsters who would otherwise not be able to take part due to financial hardship.
‘One of our things is,’ she explains, ‘we never turn anyone away if they can’t afford training. To have a young kid tell us we changed their life is my biggest inspiration to do what I do.’
The savvy businesswoman has also launched her own dancewear brand and she is in talks with Virgin Media to produce a Living the Dream dance app on their TiVo service. ‘I’ve been a part of a group called Virgin Media Pioneers since August last year: I’ve been heavily involved in their “Control Shift” campaign and helping Richard Branson talk to the government about a youth investment fund idea, giving young people the chance to apply for a business loan as a start-up at the same rate as a student loan, instead of going to university. Through luck I got the opportunity to meet the CEO of Virgin Media and pitch my idea; they’ve been really great helping me make it happen.’
Living the Dream now has 350 talented young students, who take part in classes, showcases and flash-mobs. The company boasts a team of about 700 young people involved in the school of performing arts, dance company, media company and dancewear shop.
Exceptionally talented and versatile in many aspects of the performing arts and business world, Zoe has received many accolades, including a Woman of the Future in Arts, Media and Culture Award. She was even selected to talk to Prime Minister David Cameron about setting up a youth investment fund, and had the opportunity to speak at the launch of Richard Branson’s latest book, Screw Business as Usual.
Zoe reflects on her achievements. ‘Becoming managing director of Living the Dream, everyone has encouraged me to live my dream and not let the little matter of age get in the way of running my own business! I have learned so much since starting in 2006 and I am very excited about the future of my business. I really am living the dream.’