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Life of UEL graduate to be celebrated in newly commissioned opera with Newham schools

More than 250 young people will work with Newham Music to create and perform opera based on life of Jonathan Lofulo

Work has started on an exciting new project that brings Newham young people together to create an original opera based on the life story of University of East London (UEL) student Jonathan Lofulo.

Under the guidance of Newham Music, pupils from five local schools are collaborating with composers who have worked at the Royal Opera House to develop a production inspired by Jonathan's extraordinary life.

The 29-year-old moved to the UK as a child refugee and spent time in prison before turning his life around and enrolling at UEL. He graduated in 2016 with a first-class degree.

Jonathan said, “I have no high expectations of trying to change the world. But if I can reach out to at least one person and say, ‘Here’s my story’ and have them respond with ‘This guy, why don’t I see if I can follow the same path as him?’ – if I’m able to achieve that, I’d be really happy.”

Work on the opera will begin in the New Year, with performances scheduled for 10 July at the Newham Music Festival of Youth. More than 250 children, from Lister, Rokeby, Sarah Bonnell, Upton Cross and Portway schools, as well as their family members, will ultimately participate in some way.

Jonathan’s eventful life includes fleeing the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo as a child and being raised by his older brother in east London.

An athletic youngster, he trained with both Arsenal and West Ham football academies but was easily distracted and failed to capitalise on the opportunities. He eventually fell in with the wrong crowd and ended up in prison for burglary.

While behind bars, Jonathan decided to turn his life around. Following his release, he enrolled at UEL and, through hard work and determination, earned a first-class degree in Education Studies in 2016.   

He is now back at UEL studying for a master’s degree in Refugee Studies and hopes to work with troubled teenagers.

Over the past month he has attended several opera development sessions to talk to pupils from the local schools and impart some understanding of his life.

On a recent afternoon at Lister, Jonathan held his audience of 30 pupils enthralled as he recounted his experiences and answered questions ranging from what his life was like in prison to why he had a scar on his face.

Jonathan said, “Speaking to the kids is a chance for me to highlight the importance of being educated. I’m able to reach out to these children and share my experience with them – and learn from them as well. 

Newham Music CEO John Bergin said, “We’re delighted to be working with a fantastic team of partners to bring this truly innovative and inclusive project to the community.”

“Drawing inspiration from Jonathan Lofulo, our young people will create music to celebrate opportunity and the rich cultural diversity of Newham. We hope that this unique project will inspire our young people to share their experiences and explore the musical world around them.”