'Making it work'…in an area of rural isolation. Practice sharing film 2.

How do you make Musical Inclusion work in a rurally isolated area? And in one which is also an area of high socio-economic deprivation, where young people are dealing with many of the issues more usually associated with urban areas?

‘Musical Inclusion - Making it work’

A series of films sharing practice, reflections and experience of Musical Inclusion from Teesside

Making it work….in an area of rural isolation

How do you make Musical Inclusion work in a rurally isolated area?  And in one which is also an area of high socio-economic deprivation, where young people are  dealing with many of the issues more usually associated with urban areas?

We are glad to be able to share our experience of ‘Making it work’ in the villages of East Cleveland – an isolated area of former mining villages lying between Teesside and the North Yorks Moors.  Young people here have few opportunities.  Transport links even to the nearby town of Redcar are poor.  Aspirations are low, with many young people anticipating a future of unemployment, and seeing no further than the village they have grown up in.

In this film, Neil Walker and other music leaders from ‘Club Creative’ share their experience of engaging and supporting young people through ‘Gig School’, a musinc commissioned project which gave young people a ‘Summer School’ experience usually only available in urban areas or to those whose parents can afford to pay.  The project brought young people together from the two local secondary schools, breaking down barriers and enabling young people to form new friendships as well as develop their musical confidence and skills.  

It gave ‘bedroom musicians’ the chance to play and perform with others – and has linked these young people with local cultural resources, with the group going on to perform at the new Tuned In!  My Place facility in Redcar.




What we learned:

That the opportunity to play with others in a band situation brings music alive for young musicians who have been learning and practicing alone

That young people really value the chance to meet others, from another school, who share their interests and musical passions and  with the right support they can quickly overcome initial nervousness and reservations.

That the intensive, summer school experience enables the development of deep, lasting friendships and musical relationships.   Some of the young people are continuing to meet up and play together independently.

That local knowledge and support is key.  ‘Club Creative’ is based in the area, and one of the music leaders is also a peripatetic teacher for Tees Valley Music Service.

That short projects can demonstrate the value of music making and unlock potential resources– Freebrough School itself has now engaged one of the music leaders directly to continue  a weekly after school band session.

That creative problem solving can yield the best outcomes – originally this was planned as two shorter projects, one at each school.  When building work meant that one school could not be used, the two were amalgamated bringing together two isolated groups of young people in a shared, creative experience.

Watch 'Making it work'…in a pupil referral unit here
Watch our compilation film, which includes elements of 10 projects commissioned by musinc, here 

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anita holford's picture

Thanks for posting Gwyneth - it's great to have the video plus your thoughts on the learning that you've drawn from the work. I'm sure that Music Pool, Hereford and BSharp Dorset will have some thoughts on this, as they've written detailed posts about their experiences and also had online conversations.

Also Millie at NYMAZ has been conducting research in this area:



Ayvin Rogers's picture

Great video! It put a smile on my face. It looks like you have a wonderful team. The piece of work Anita points you to in rural Dorset had similar outcomes and learning. B Sharp joined young people together from different schools in neighbouring towns, in an intense piece of work over 5 days in a half term.

The nature of being inclusive to all who suffer rural isolation means that working in schools is a great first point of contact in areas where not a lot is happening, and you get very mixed abilities in a group. Of course, in addition to the embracing challenge of rural isolation, many have personal issues they struggle with, whether rich or poor, such as bullying, abuse, low self esteem etc. Creating the right environment where they all support each other and use their different strengths also creates some fantastic music in a very short time, and builds confidence for all involved (including leaders). It looks like you've done that well. Our research into participation barriers highlighted confidence as one of the biggest issues that prevents people getting involved. This is why a lot of our energy is about youth work and building confidence in the whole person. You can use social media as much as you like, but the best way to get young people involved is personal conversations with them, and this takes time. Doing some work in a school allows that initial contact.

Your video showed young people and leaders all wanted to do more. These 'cold spot' tasters creates a hunger for more, I would imagine in rural and urban settings. The ability to create continuity in very spread out and thinly populated areas is a big problem. It depends on the capacity of organisations to spread out their work, or to establish energetic drivers and supporting teams in each cold spot to get something going. Then of course, how will it all be resourced?

Livewire in Herefordshire have blogged about a centralised approach (see Anita's link and http://network.youthmusic.org.uk/groups/musical-inclusion/discussions/li... ) and found that young people will travel if they find something they really like. We have found similar outcomes, with some young people travelling to Lyme for our regular Tuesday sessions after experiencing Minc outreach work in towns 10-15 miles away. Of course, more may want to continue but rural transport - cost, time and availability is a big issue.

If resources allowed, I think any small town that can support a supermarket has enough young people in the area to make a decent and enthusiastic regular music making group. Lyme Regis is an example (we have a small Tesco Express and small Co-op and population of 3,500 - mostly ageing!) yet have 45-50 young people between 11-25 regularly turn up to our weekly sessions (the older ones are emerging music leaders). This is what I meant in my discussion with Livewire last year, about bringing training to rural areas rather than making young people travel to larger towns with colleges perhaps 30 miles away. To some extent, we bring it to Lyme Regis. It can be done anywhere if you have the drivers willing to get the resources - but the more this happens, the more competitive it becomes!

For our regular sessions, we charged £5 per 2 hour session, with free or part payment for those in need, when we had a Youth Music grant to support us. We have a funding gap at the moment and now charge £7/session to those that can pay - it hasn't reduced attendance numbers. (I think around 25 pay the full amount). This income pays for the venue hire and some music leadership, so in a superficial way it is sustainable, but we need additional support to get the full value that B Sharp is known for - the skill cascade and leadership training with various levels of payment to young music leaders as they progress (enough to supervise 4 different groups at the sessions), portfolio support, youth work mentoring, networking and pathway development, plus the management, evaluation meetings with leaders and participants, back office and core costs etc. At the moment we are dipping into hard won reserves to create continuity with all the B Sharp trimmings. We don't want our flagship project to lessen in value. So, the hunger of young people in a small town's catchment area is there. It's the delivery resources that are the challenge.

On a lighter note, I liked your comments, and in the video, about friendships. Making new friends through music is one of the great outcomes of group music making.

We are just finishing our Excellence in Group Singing module. Originally we had planned to work with several secondary schools but shifting sands of commitment changed our age groups and we are now focused on 4 Primaries, with some keen secondary age singers coming in to form one large choir that will be performing in Exeter cathedral in January. The 4 Primaries all recently came together for a performance in Lyme. Unfortunately I was away, but have been told that they were all keenly observing one another. This is probably the first time many will have met children from neighbouring areas, and you can be sure their paths will cross many times in the future as they grow up, perhaps going to the same secondary school, or visit nearby towns for a market or leisure activities, and then live and work in the area as adults. The enjoyment of music, and the making of it is a great social glue and good foundation for the future.

Best wishes.

The Music Pool's picture

Wow thanks for such extensive commenting Ayvin! Great to hear things are still kicking down there - you're pretty near my original training grounds.

We've always managed to maintain free weekly sessions but it doesn't exactly pave the way for sustainability. Parents are often surprised when they don't have to pay too and this makes me think maybe we should institute some sort of fee. Do you mind me asking how you figure out who is able to pay and who you subsidise?

Also do you have any learning to share from the weeks you run? I've just written an evaluation of our latest week-long project that I found a really useful exercise and have been meaning to share on the network

Jack Sibley

Ayvin Rogers's picture

Hi Jack, good to hear from you.

Sustainability and increasing resilience is an important goal of our projects and organisation. When we first started back in 2007, we made all our activities free to participants - made possible through the generosity of grants, especially Youth Music - it was a great way to introduce B Sharp to the community, and CYP could try us out with nothing to lose. As we developed new work and sought funding to do it, we became more and more aware that funders wanted to give a starting 'leg up' to projects, but didn't want organisations to become dependent upon them, and always asked in one form or another, "How will the project continue when our funding runs out?"

We consulted CYP, parents and carers in sessions, meetings, email and questionnaires about charging and found that many would be prepared to contribute towards costs and gave indications of what they thought fair. We made it clear (and still do on our website and publicity materials) that those in need can come for free or give what they can. They don't have to show any documentation of benefits they may receive, they just have to talk to us - it's all on trust. At first, payment was given at each session. We are now trying to encourage payment for a term, in advance. That is not always possible, but it does give participant commitment and some confidence to us that we will achieve this income, which we predict and use towards match funding. The key thing is that parents are happy to pay if they can - their children are our ambassadors and tell them what they get out of it.

One heart warming story is that one of our participants, a young carer whose family were not earning, went and got a Saturday job because she wanted to contribute to our costs, even though she would have been welcome to pay nothing. That to me shows the the value of our work and the generosity and good will of young people.

As explained in my original comment on this blog, the participation fees have given us a lifeline to continue our work after a significant funding application was turned down. We are hoping that more funding will be in place in May, but of course that's not guaranteed!

I'd be happy to share some learning. Is there a topic that you are especially interested in? I could share all sorts, but I'd take up loads of room here and I can ramble a bit!

Our weekly sessions are focused on developing Young Music Leadership, where CYP can attend sessions when they get into secondary school, start jamming and collaboratively develop material, and progress to being paid £6/hour to help lead sessions as they reach around 17/18 yrs old. We have been going long enough now to see fantastic progression. 2 of our YMLs started with us when they were around 12 and now jointly lead one of the 4 subgroups on Tuesdays. We had our annual B Sharp party in the Marine Theatre on Saturday (we also charge here - £6 for adults, £3 for children and free if asked for on the door - we were packed with cabaret/table/candles style seating) and this group (8 CYP) performed 2 songs with 3 vocalists, 4 traditional instrument musicians and 1 keyboard with electronic wizardry. Wow! Amazing stuff! In fact all the 4 groups performed 2 songs each and were outstanding. As the young people pass through B Sharp, they stay or move around these music groups, and some have been playing and developing material together for a few years. Saturday's performances really showed the increased quality of music produced, and I think partly comes from a long time getting to know and collaborate with the same people. This is something we need to ask them - what they get out of long term peer musical relationships.

Best wishes,


The Music Pool's picture

Hi Ayvin,

We operate a trust system for our week-long activities, for which we charge £50. (Again, we may soon need to consult with parents as to whether we could go higher with price.) The trust system has worked well for us and we have had similar stories of participants working for the money when they knew they could have been successful in getting subsidisation. It's a welcome sign of appreciation!

It's really interesting to hear that you focus on youth leadership in weekly sessions. I'm trying to bring this more and more central to our work at the moment. Whilst over the years we have regularly had participants develop into dedicated volunteers and leaders, there is no set system, with participants taking their own initiative alongside one-to-one supervision. The transfer from participant to volunteer can often be tough though, and I fear we can sometimes discourage some YP with great potential when we don't work within a set structure, however loose.

In terms of week-long projects, I'm always interested to hear how people timetable them. I'll be uploading our evaluation of our latest week soon and the main focus is on large changes to the structure of the week which affect timetabling, so for now I'll just look forward to getting feedback from that I think.

I'm regularly down in Devon for weekends as my parents live near Tiverton. Perhaps I could come over to Lyme Regis sometime and compare notes in person? Given the similarities of our projects, I'd be really keen!

Ayvin Rogers's picture

Hi Jack, the nature of regular open access, mixed ability/age/experience groups in inclusive rural projects lends itself to a skill cascade and leadership training opportunity. The looseness of your informal progression steps to becoming volunteers and leaders works well for many young people. Even when an organisation starts to formalise progress and responsibilities, so that progression steps can be recognised in some way, it is still really important to be flexible and adapt structures to individual needs and aspirations. If it becomes too ridged, it may put off those that struggle with school type targets and exams etc. If you haven't formalised your own progression steps, structured Silver and Gold Arts Award is an option for those seeking more structure and accreditation, if you know a friendly Arts Award centre e.g. a local school.

Below, I'll give you an outline of what we do, but the best person to talk to is our Director, Fran - she works directly with young people, using her youth and social work background to encourage 'learning and participation'. Both Fran and I think it would be great to meet you in Lyme. Weekends would be good if you just want a chat. If you'd like to observe our work and talk to some young people, weekends are not so good. Sometime after Christmas would be good. You can email Fran and I at ayvinrogers@hotmail.com and franwilliams@bsharp.uk.com and we'll sort something out.

We have 5 leadership progression levels. This came about as we tried to explain what our young music leadership programme involved. The base of the pyramid progression continuum starts as 'participant' (roughly 11-18 yrs old), progressing to 'Apprentice Trainee' (roughly 15-16 yrs old), 'Trainee Young Music Leader' (roughly 17-18 yrs old), 'Assistant Music Leader' (roughly 19-25 yrs old) and finally, 'Music Leader'. All levels have a template of bullet points that describe what someone can expect from us and what we expect from them. These form the basis of contracts when a contract is necessary. The templates are used for conversations with young people about what they want and how we can get there together. Individual learning plans are also based around these. The templates are very flexible and are just tools for individual progression. There is no certification, but everyone is encouraged to build a portfolio of what they do - individual notes, photos, posters/fliers, press cuttings etc and they can use their time with us to gain Arts Award through Lyme's secondary school. These portfolios have also been used for University interviews etc and have been very helpful in securing places. We start paying people from Trainee Young Music Leader upwards, when they start taking on some skilled responsibilities, leading small music groups. Different levels have different payments. The payments have several functions - helping young people with the cost of living as they progress towards becoming adults, so they can pay for independent activities, transport etc; recognise responsibilities and are aspirational for younger B Sharpers.

I hope this is of some use. Perhaps I should write a separate blog about out leadership levels, to explain them in depth.

The Music Pool's picture

Hi Ayvin,

That's really fascinating. Yes write a blog!

Great I'll have a look at when I'm in your neck of the woods after Christmas and get back in touch soon about visiting.


The Music Pool's picture

Really great video guys! Been enjoying this series a lot so far - full of great ideas, inspiration and giving confidence that we're on the right path!

The project looks very similar to the project we run called Livewire Central (video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QzZm3MqqNlg).

I really like the emphasis in your learning on the social benefits. We've also seen rurally isolated young people face massive barriers to socialising, and therefore relish their time at a place that pulls in like-minded young people from a much larger catchment area than their schools.

Jack Sibley