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New opera about UEL’s Jonathan Lofulo premieres at Stratford Theatre Royal

Jonathan has now started his own company to help young people

A new opera based on the life of University of East London (UEL) student Jonathan Lofulo - a refugee turned promising footballer, who ended up in prison before turning his life around - premiered on Wednesday 11 July at Stratford Theatre Royal.

Under the guidance of Newham Music, pupils from five local schools worked together with composers to develop ‘Full Circle’, inspired by Jonathan's extraordinary life, in front of a packed house.

Speaking after the opera, Jonathan said, “I was very moved by the performance. The students have spent months working on this and it all came together really professionally on the night. And it was good to see a full house there to support the event. 

“I was struck by the use of song, music, and audio clips to tell the story of my life. It was very artistic. I think opera and theatre lovers would really appreciate how it was put together. I feel inspired to maybe even write my own one day.”

More than 250 children, from Lister, Rokeby, Sarah Bonnell, Upton Cross and Portway schools, as well as their family members, collaborated to make the opera a success.

As part of the production process, Jonathan attended several opera development sessions to talk to pupils from the local schools about his life.

Amy Haynes, a teacher from Lister Community School, was the driving force behind the opera and its conductor on the night. 

She said, “The opera was a huge success and were very proud of the students both for the work they created and the way the performed.”

The opera was as part of Newham Music’s Festival of Youth, which included six concerts between Thursday 5 July and Wednesday 11 July.

The theatre finale also featured instrumental and choral performances by Roma Bridging Sounds Orchestra, Urban Development’s Urban Flames, Newham Grooves Choir, and local charity Ambition, Aspire, Achieve.

Jonathan was born in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo but fled to the UK at the age of 12 with his older brother, who was also Jonathan’s sole guardian.

A talented footballer, he was scouted by West Ham FC and Arsenal FC, but a lack of discipline led to both teams dropping him. 

His life took a downturn, leading to a three year prison sentence for burglary in his early twenties. He served one year, which proved a turning point.

He said, “Going to prison was like a reality check. I thought to myself, ‘I want to turn my life around. How am I going to turn my life around?’ And I thought to myself, ‘I could do further education.’” 

He graduated with a first-class BA honours degree in education, and now works in sales. He is also studying for a master’s degree in refugee studies at UEL and hopes to work with troubled teenagers.

He said, “I hope that the talks I’ve given to the students, and the performance will do some good. Maybe I can help change one person’s life in the way that I’ve been helped by good people around me.”

He also revelaed that his life experiences and the interest they have generated has motivated him to start his own company, Chose for Change, aimed at preventing young people choosing a life of crime. 

Jonathan said, "There is an epidemic of knife crime across the UK, with young people aged 10-25 years old from poor backgrounds the worst affected, so I want to show that education can transforms societies.

"I've started Choose for Change with the mission to provide tutorial sessions for young people in schools, colleges and universities. I want to educate them and show them that there is an alternative way of living life and appreciating people around them. 

"As a former gang member and victim of knife crime, I'm trying to provide solutions to knife and gang crime by engaging with young people in schools, colleges, universities and local housing associations, educating them about the consequences of carrying knives and being part of gangs."