Meet the Chigwell tutor who founded a global entertainment company at the age of 15

PUBLISHED: 12:00 17 June 2017

Joel Kern, founder of Make Believe. Photo: Make Believe

Joel Kern, founder of Make Believe. Photo: Make Believe


Not many of us can claim to have been savvy businessmen at the age of 15, and even fewer of us can claim to have created a moral enterprise at such a young age.

Joel Kern, founder of Make Believe. Photo: Make Believe Joel Kern, founder of Make Believe. Photo: Make Believe

But that’s exactly what Joel Kern did when he founded Make Believe – a performing arts company that aims to make the theatre, music and film industries accessible for everyone.

Born at Whipps Cross Hospital and raised on the streets of Clayhall and Hainault, Joel’s fascination with performing began at the age of 12, when his mother bought him a DJ kit from a local Argos on the high street.

“I would do family birthday’s and things, then I moved on to doing school discos and weddings and things and before I knew it I was making a decent amount of money from it,” Joel told the Recorder.

“When I was 14 I decided to produce a local show - Grease it was – I put £4,000 of my own money in to make it happen and we ended up raising £10,000 for charity.

Joel Kern, founder of Make Believe. Photo: Make Believe Joel Kern, founder of Make Believe. Photo: Make Believe

“After that I decided it was the sort of thing I could make a career of because that proved I could make money while still doing something that was going to help others.”

And so at the age of 15 Joel, who now lives in Chigwell, founded Make Believe, with that altruistic goal in mind.

He said: “For me it was always about giving everyone an equal chance at getting on stage.

“I started Make Believe because I wanted to give people of all backgrounds a chance to try out the performing arts.

“When I was growing up you sort of had to be Middle Class upwards to get ahead and that doesn’t have to be the case anymore.”

And so Make Believe was founded, with the overarching principle behind the company being to allow anyone of any creed, race, colour or ability to try their hand at getting creative onstage.

Now, 14 years later, Make Believe have workshops operating from 50 different franchises across the UK – a long way from the company’s first class in which Joel simply taught five children how to sing, dance and act.

Instead Make Believe now trains around 3,500 schoolchildren each week, many of whom go on to join the

The company’s ceative branch has also produced West End shows in hallowed venues such as the Novello Theatre, now home to Mamma Mia, and the Empire.

It’s no small wonder Joel was honoured with this year’s Federation of Small Business Young Entrepreneur of the year for South East England award.

Make Believe’s success has even translated into global recognition after a close friend of Joel’s, who had helped him produce a number of productions of Annie in the UK, moved to Australia.

Joel said: “We actually met when she was helping train guide dogs and we needed one for a show where one of the actresses was blind and we became good friends.

“She came back after she had been in Australia for about a year and we went out for a drink and she told me she hadn’t really started a career out there.

“So we started talking about her maybe continuing what Make Believe was doing over here.

“In the end she bought the master licence from me and now she’s our lead franchisee out there in Sydney.

“Obviously it’s amazing. I love what I do and I’m thrilled to know it’s been successful but it’s mainly about making sure you give other people a chance to be a part of it.

“What I love most is watching that process where something grows from nothing. It’s different every time we help set a franchise up but it’s always incredibly rewarding.”

There are still some areas of the UK that remain without Make Believe franchises. To express your interest in owning a franchise contact Joel Kern at


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