Ella Cockerton

Ella Cockerton

Individual Giving and Events Officer at Birmingham Royal Ballet

Graduated in 2019 

Former BA English and Drama student Ella Cockerton graduated from BCU in 2019. Since graduating Ella has started to work for Birmingham Royal Ballet as an Individual Giving and Events Officer. We spoke with Ella about how her degree has shaped her chosen career path.

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Hi Ella. Did you always want to study your chosen subject at university or did you change your mind when you were researching/applying?

In Sixth Form, I had thought I wanted to study Psychology. I accepted an offer and studied for six months in York, but then became ill with meningitis and had to take time off. This experience led me to reflect on where I was going in my life, and what I wanted to study in order to get me there. I decided to leave York, and apply for a different course the following year. I did a lot of research, and then visited BCU. The course, campus and people I met made such an impression that I then took a huge leap of faith in completely changing the sector I was studying in. I chose English and Drama as it had the dual aspect of studying in two fields, which I felt could lead to me being more employable and give me the opportunity to study two subjects I felt passionate about.

What challenges did you face while studying here, and what support did BCU/your Faculty provide you during your degree?

I found moving away from home hard, and the change to studying independently outside of lectures and seminars quite daunting; I am a bit of a perfectionist so I wanted to read everything, twice. BCU offered sessions in the Starbucks Café to talk with other students and staff, and to talk through assignments and all things related to university life. This made a huge difference and helped me realise that I wasn’t alone in feeling slightly daunted, and that reading the entire contents of the library in the first semester wasn’t entirely necessary! While I was at BCU, the lecturers were always willing to discuss an assessment, the course breakdown, and any issues you might be having at university more generally. I took advantage of the lecturer’s Office Hours and this led to me developing a really clear understanding of how to improve my work. I gained the confidence to push myself, and completed assignments on essay titles outside of the module suggestions.

In what way do you think BCU developed you as a person for you to flourish in your chosen career path?

BCU helped me develop many skills I have taken forwards with me into my career. BCU enabled me to create, and become the President of a Society. This experience taught me leadership skills, pushed me to think innovatively and helped me consider the importance of engagement, which I feel is very important within my role in The Arts. I also acted as the School Representative for two years and through this BCU gave me the opportunity to speak with staff and students to promote positive change within the School. This role furthered my confidence in public speaking, and helped me realise that I have the ability to make a positive difference. Awards such as Graduate+ offered at BCU recognise volunteering, participation in training, holding a part-time job, and even the completion of things such as the Fire Walk in Graduate+ week. By taking part in Graduate+, BCU helped me work towards being the most employable Graduate I could be when I graduated, with a host of knowledge about what employers’ will look for, and the tenacity to aim as high as possible.

Did you gain any relevant experience whilst studying at BCU that allowed you to easily adapt to your job role?

At BCU, I gained the opportunity to volunteer at the Birmingham Weekender festival through a call out emailed to us by the university. The experience of volunteering at this festival helped me establish that a career within the Arts was the direction I wanted to take, and inspired me to continue developing skills that would help me achieve this after graduation. Having volunteered at the Birmingham Weekender, I gained further opportunities to volunteer at MAC, on the Volunteer Coordinator Panel, as a guest judge on The Shakespeare Birthplace Trusts’ Film Festival, with Beatfreeks for their Festival of Audacity in 2018 and on the BBC’s Pass the Mic event, and with the Birmingham Commonwealth Games Handover and Social events. These experiences helped me to network, learn about the Arts in Birmingham, about funding bids and the logistics of events and volunteering. I’ve gained confidence, learnt about my strengths and shortcomings and how best to harness or tackle these, and gained amazing insight into the sector to accompany my degree. BCU gave me the necessary tools I need to adapt to whatever situation I find myself in.

What key skills have you been able to take into your job role and how have these helped you excel?

The course modules offered at BCU such as Radio Writing, Adaptation, and Shakespeare Studies helped me gain a broad knowledge of Literature within my field, and then established and developed my own writing style which now helps me in various contexts, such as fundraising asks and copywriting within my role at Birmingham Royal Ballet. Studying Drama as part of my degree has helped me develop skills in teamwork, public speaking, and within my role as the Director in the Drama Workshop module; leadership and understanding of the mechanisms of a successful team to contextualise and visualise ambitious goals. Studying English and Drama at BCU has enhanced my understanding of various ideologies, theories, and historical contexts, giving me an appreciation of the metatheatrical aspects and impact of Drama and The Arts more widely, beyond the form in which it is written. In understanding the impact The Arts can have, I am passionate and driven to enable as many people as possible to access the ballet form.

If you have any advice for anyone who is studying the course you studied, what would you say?

It sounds clichéd, but enjoy every moment. I had some tough times at university, but it was also the biggest period of growth I have ever experienced. I would also suggest that you make the best possible use of the facilities available to you. The Lecturers really do mean it when they say you can book to see them at any time, and it will help you improve your work no end receiving their advice one-to-one. In the same vein, I’d seriously recommend starting assessments and research early. The difference in marks that I achieved when I properly planned and researched an essay, compared to one I was stressing about three weeks before the deadline was considerable! More broadly, and most importantly to me, my biggest piece of advice is to make time for enjoying yourself. Birmingham is such a vibrant city with so much going on, and the more you explore it, the more you will get back in return. Finally… Join as many societies as you can, and if there isn’t one you like the look of, you can create one!

Can you tell us some exciting things you have been involved in since starting your new job role?

I joined Birmingham Royal Ballet at the same time Carlos Acosta was appointed as Director. Carlos is one of the most celebrated dancers in the ballet world, and to meet him in my first few weeks at The Company was exciting, but also completely terrifying! My first day at Birmingham Royal Ballet involved helping to plan and attend the Opening Night Reception for The Nutcracker in 2019 for notable guests such as the Mayor, our high-level donors, and the press. On opening night, I was able to watch the first performance of The Nutcracker from the Circle amongst our board members, after attending the reception I had helped host. Having joined The Company in November 2019, we all left our Thorp Street home on March 16 as COVID-19 became more prevalent. The last year has been incredibly tough within the arts, but it has been made so much better being within the most fantastic company of staff and dancers, who are all so passionate about what they do. I am currently helping to plan an online Gala and continuing a series of events being hosted via Zoom for our supporters. While the events aren’t the same as being in the theatre, I’m thrilled to have been able to cook up our ‘Tea With...’ series, giving our donors an opportunity to talk about all things ballet and to see some familiar faces. We have around 60 people attending these events each time, with guests including our CEO, Caroline Miller, Orchestral Director, John Beadle, Assistant Director, Marion Tait, and Principal Dancers, Céline Gittens, and Tyrone Singleton.

What does BCU mean to you?

BCU gave me the confidence to pursue a career in the sector I am passionate about, and supported me every step of the way as I worked to try to achieve my goals. BCU led me to meet some of the most important people in my life, and the experiences we shared at university will always be incredibly special to me - from having a pizza in the Eagle and Ball, to rehearsing in the Drama Studio: all of these were made possible by BCU. Most importantly to me, BCU taught me that if you work hard and take every opportunity that comes your way, the possibilities are endless.