As the music drifts into the busy street through open windows and doors, people squint through the sunshine to see where the fun is coming from.
The old Dr Black’s Memorial Hall on Inverness’s Bank Street had stood empty for a lot of years, but Amanda Chisholm, Victoria Rollo and Enrica Ross-Campbell have changed that.
Last year, the three mums finally made the dream of having a dedicated space for their musical theatre school Performers UK a reality.
And now, after battling their way through the pandemic to complete a £20k-plus renovation, they are finally putting the finishing touches to their new home.
From 23 kids in a rented space to almost 600 on the books and waiting lists for classes, through the “kick in the stomach” of getting the keys as lockdown started – and with an added X-Factor ingredient – here is how Victoria, Enrica and Amanda got where they are today.
Parties, Marbella and Simon Cowell
When the trio got together and formed Performers UK, one of them already had a bit of a showbiz background.
At the tender age of 21, Enrica starred on the X-Factor as part of girl band W4. She and her bandmates were taken under Simon Cowell’s wing – despite his lukewarm initial reception to them – and made it as far as boot camp in Marbella.
Enrica remembers a whirl of a year in the aftermath of the band’s achievement.
She said: “We did a lot for about a year – parties and engagements.”
But the band didn’t get a management deal, and Enrica made her way back to Inverness.
She said: “I came home and met the other two. Everything happens for a reason.”
And soon, the trio were ready to take the plunge.
Victoria added: “We started for business reasons and love of performing. We’re in each others’ pockets and we’ve grown as a three.
“We put in £200 each to get leaflets and put a sign on Enrica’s car. We started with 23 kids in Culloden with a musical theatre class.”
‘We’re three mums but we’re ambitious’
To begin with, Performers UK was renting spaces at schools and churches.
Enrica added: “Everyone involved was great, but we would want extra slots for classes, but we couldn’t get them because there was judo or football on.
“We’re three mums but we’re ambitious.”
That ambition led them to the long-empty Dr Black’s Memorial Hall by the river.
Enrica said: “If you’re not physically performing in the West End any more, the next best thing is having your own place. That’s the dream.”
But the dream had all the makings of a nightmare within weeks of announcing their news.
Enrica recalled: “We announced it and the world shut down – that’s what happened. It was the worst thing at the time.
“It was like a kick in the stomach.
“But then, in the summer, things started opening back up and we were able to come down here and do it properly.”
What they now have is a two-storey space with a performance area, studios, breakout rooms and an office.
And kids. Lots and lots of kids, everywhere.
Performers UK success stories
Performers UK has reached a point where some of their first batch of pupils are now striking out and making an impression in the world.
Amy Youngson, from Alness, and Tai Maiver, from Inverness, both in their 20s, have graduated from the prestigious Emile Dale Academy in London. Tai recently had her first West End audition.
Akheera MacRae, from Tain, 16, recently got into the Dance School of Scotland Musical Theatre course in Glasgow’s Jordanhill. Only eight get in a year.
Victoria said: “I say to everybody I didn’t do performing arts to be rich. So the end goal is something like this happening.”
Enrica added: “We have also got a lot of kids who might not fit in. When that door closes at the front, they’re safe here. It’s a safe space where they can be themselves.
“It’s teaching them that it’s OK to be you.”
Performers UK: The future
With nine staff, 36 classes a week and 560 kids coming from Dornoch, Tain, Gairloch and Aviemore, the trio have achieved a lot – but they’re not finished yet.
Victoria said: “We’d like to do a show and we’d like to offer a full-time course in musical theatre. Now we have a full-time building, that’s the top goal.
“In the short term, we’re looking forward to getting back to singing when we’re allowed.”
Enrica added: “This building is constant – you never know what the next day is going to bring.
“It’s a wee family that’s just going to keep going.”