Jarrow-based, SHiELDS Agency, is ready to get the show on the road, having become the latest beneficiary of Open North Foundation, receiving a £1,500 grant that will help put North East talent under the spotlight.

Established by South Shields-born, Jennifer Davison, 33, the boutique talent agency and professional academy, which caters for young actors aged 7-21, operates in one of the industries hit hardest by Covid-19 and had to adapt to restrictions by moving lessons online.

It will use the grant to fund the North East’s first professional dance company that mixes young children and adults. Auditions, which are expected to be held in summer, Covid-19 permitting, are yet to be announced and will be for those aged 9-25.

A private sector-led, not-for profit company, established in summer 2020 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Open North Foundation assists small firms in the North East considered to deliver long-term positive economic and social impact and create high quality jobs. Grants ranging from £1000 to £5000, from money donated by companies and individuals in the region, are available for those that meet stringent criteria, plus in-kind support such as marketing, HR and finance. Directors, ambassadors and supporters of the Foundation provide their time pro bono.

Jennifer Davison, founder and head agent of SHiELDS Agency, said: “Having worked in film and TV for over fourteen years, predominately in London, I know from experience, the lack of opportunity available to young talent in the North, compared to the South.

“The training and opportunities we provide, alongside my national and international connections, help bridge the gap and act as a springboard for our pupils. Many of our academy members, for whom we act as agents, sourcing auditions in film, TV and theatre, have experienced great success in the arts throughout the country, including London.

“It felt only right to further our offering and the grant from Open North Foundation will go towards establishing our dance company. If accepted, students will have access to monthly training from a top-class team of professionals in a variety of disciplines, to support their dance development. Then, putting this training into practice, they will work with directors, cinematographers and choreographers, to create innovative short films based in the North East and take up residency once per year at a prime location in the UK, to showcase the end result. This is a real opportunity to understand what it is like to be part of a professional company. Information about auditions will soon be posted on our website.”

Richard Swart, chair, Open North Foundation, said: “The arts is a vital industry that provides income for many and it has been blighted by Covid-19, being one of the first to close and last to open.

“The positive relationship between the arts and mental health has long been documented and we must fight to preserve and develop access to it in the North, for all ages.

“SHiELDS Agency has shown great resilience and adaptability during the pandemic, working hard to support members online and developing plans for its future dance company, aided by the grant from Open North Foundation. Post-Covid, it will continue to provide world-class education and experience for emerging young talent in the North East.

“We would like to encourage businesses and organisations that are in a position to pledge financial and or service support, to join us in our fight to secure the future prosperity of North East businesses. Full details of what we do and requirements to qualify for support are on our website www.opennorthfoundation.co.uk.”