Tackling Rural Isolation through a Centralised Provision

A key theme to the Livewire project's priority of inclusion is tackling rural isolation. Herefordshire is one of the most rural counties in England and has the 4th most disparate population in the country, with residents scattered across its 842 square miles.

Two-fifths of residents live in the most rural areas of the county and providing any service to people over this large area presents a huge challenge.  Just under a third of people live in Hereford city, just over a fifth of people live in the five market towns: Leominster, Ross, Ledbury, Bromyard & Kington, and nearly half of the population lives in villages, hamlets and isolated dwellings in the surrounding rural areas.  In total, 54% of the population live in areas classified as 'rural.' (Herefordshire Council; facts and figures).

Originally, Livewire aimed to spread itself over the entire county, offering workshops in all of the market towns and in Hereford itself.  This was planned to happen through the pre-existing youth services, who would offer access to networks of young people, venues for workshops and performances and other resources.  However, during the inception of Livewire, these services disbanded and the priority became to establish our own network in partnership with other organisations.

Continuing to offer workshops in all of the market towns of Herefordshire whilst trying to develop and subsequently maintain this network would have spread us too thin.  It would have meant that, on completion of a set of workshops, Livewire would have been forced to pack up and move on, leaving the young musicians, however engaged or inspired, with no progression route by which to further nurture their talents.  This was seen to be having serious detrimental effects by some of our artists who reported back that, with this sense of abandonment, young musicians became further disengaged and any positive outcomes that had been achieved were negated.

With this in mind, our provision had to be streamlined and also centred on a specific area.  Being directly central to the county, the most accessible area and already functioning as the base for The Music Pool, the city of Hereford was an obvious choice for a centralised provision.  This was further cemented upon the acquisition of The Pavilion by community group The Friends of Castle Green.

The Pavilion is situated in a beautiful location next to the river Wye, bordering both the North and South of Hereford with access to trains and buses. The venue is also in walking distance from the only other youth centre in Hereford, Close House Youth Projects.  Mark Hubbard, chair of The Friends of Castle Green, explains that the building "isn’t in North Wye and isn’t in South Wye and it isn’t perceived as a building with barriers".  This means that there are no issues of territorialism and it is the perfect location to practice true youth inclusion.  It also provides a setting in which our aims of social development through musical activities could be achieved.  With six usable rooms, a kitchen and our own store cupboard, the building can bring many people together, giving separate spaces when necessary but with everyone within reach when collaborations were brewing.

Overall, this centralising of our services was a great success.  Through our activities, we were able to access 70 young people in Hereford itself, 52 from market towns, 24 from rural areas and 13 from the five neighbouring counties.  This shows that, if the motivation to attend our workshops is there, people across the county and beyond will find a way to come.  In addition, the use of the Pavilion would not have been the same had we used a decentralised model.  The building would not have had so many young people in attendance and therefore would not have become the diverse ‘melting pot’ it did.  Finally, it meant that we were able to maintain the quality we had wanted to be able to offer, supplying three week-long workshops (Livewire Central) throughout the year, with the majority of our supporting artists in attendance.  At the final Livewire Central of the year, 45 young people attended with 21 having previously attended outreach sessions.

There are further areas for development within this model.  The outreach sessions provided in Ross-On-Wye and Bromyard had no feed-in to the Livewire Central weeks with lack of transport given as a reason.  We do know that many young musicians are travelling from both of these locations, so further information needs to be collected in order to fully understand the reason for this.  It may be that the motivation simply wasn’t strong enough for the concerned parties to seek out a way to attend.  However, outreach activities could, of course, always be stronger.

In conclusion, Livewire’s biggest tool in tackling rural isolation has been supplying a high-quality service centred in the most accessible urban centre in the catchment area.  This is not to the exclusion of work elsewhere, but rather a hub that other work provides signposts to.

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anita holford's picture

Great blog Rob (if it's Rob writing?), thanks for posting it.

The Pavilion sounds like a great place for this type of work: are young people able to use this for informal rehearsal space and/or are there any other spaces/places in the county?

I'd also be interested to know where you were able to get the statistic about most disparate population in the country?

In case it's of use, other Musical Inclusion projects who said at the Gathering they have an interest in this area (or were mentioned by others as having an interest) are:

Claire Lewis (Sound Storm)
Heidi Johnson (NYMAZ)
Mark Bick (Glos), Carrie Creamer (Wilts), Paul Rowe (Swindon) - all 'SWAG'
Jodie.Bray@youthmusic.org.uk (you've probably seen her research paper on music making in rural areas as part of Youth Music’s full impact report 2013

See the delegate list here for contact details:

The Music Pool's picture

Thanks Anita. Actually it's Jack Sibley writing (the new Youth Music Project Manager).

The Pavilion is a fantastic space and we feel very lucky to have it. Unfortunately, the room hire rates are too high for any of our young musicians to book for themselves. We do run weekly evening sessions at which we always set aside some space for bands that are already formed to rehearse. In terms of other spaces, there are none that don't come with a hefty charge.

The statistics used are taken from the Herefordshire Council.

Thank you for the further contacts.

anita holford's picture

Ah, thanks Jack and apologies, I spotted your name in your other post!

Jodie Bray's picture

Hi Jack, This is really interesting and shows a clear argument for centralising provision. I do think there can be advantages to taking provision to small communities, particularly where there are opportunities for a broader target group (i.e. the whole community) to get involved and work towards improving a sense of community and connectedness. I’ve seen examples of where communities (in particular parents) have taken the initiative to find ways of continuing activity after a project has ended. This was testament to how projects included and achieved buy-in from parents and/or the wider community during their time there.

Slightly tenuous link, but this Ted Talk contains a few interesting nuggets in relation to how we might work with smaller communities where isolation / multiple deprivation are significantly impacting young people’s opportunities, and help enable locals to turn their own communities around. Would be interesting to explore further how this can be achieved specifically with music-making projects: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7sC3bHEz5kg

But as you’ve clearly shown, delivering in a central location will often make sense (practically and monetarily) in rural areas where the population is extremely sparse and there is a low likelihood of reaching a critical mass and sustaining provision long term.

It’s interesting that you note the sense of abandonment that young people can feel when funding/projects end, as I think this is an important factor to consider in the overall planning of a project. I’ve read various feedback from participants where it is evident that they’d been aware at the outset that the provision was short term and were uncertain (and anxious) about what, if anything, might take its place. If centralising the work will increase the likelihood of longer term provision then this can only benefit young people.

For info- as a funder Youth Music always considers the increased costs that might be specific to delivering in a rural area when assessing applications and so if it was clear that transport was needed to ensure participants could travel safely to a central venue (for example), then an application would not be declined on this basis. Would be interested to hear your thoughts on anything else you think should be considered in planning, assessing or evaluating projects in rural areas...

Thanks for posting!

The Music Pool's picture

Hi Jodie,

Thanks for your comments. Having just read your paper, this feels like a celebrity has commented! Provision of transport is an idea I am interested in but it would be great to have some more information from specific case studies so we have an idea of how and why it has or hasn't worked for other projects. Is this something you could provide?

Jodie Bray's picture

Hi Jack, I've some examples that I can email over to you. I'll be looking into this further in early 2014 so we'll have more detailed evidence and guidance in the not too distant future. It would be good to hear more about how you're working with rurally isolated young people so keep us posted!

The Music Pool's picture

Yes that would be very useful. Our email address is info@musicpool.org.uk I do like the concept of the Youth Music Network and hope it gets used more so I shall keep a keen eye and try and participate where possible.

Thanks Jodie