Over the past 12 months Youth Music have been consulting with people and organisations as part of our funds refinement project. Our aim was to ensure our grant making processes are more accessible, more equitable and more informed by the people we work with.
If you’ve applied to us for funding before you’ll know that co-designing with children and young people is a key part of the process. Similarly, our grant making practices are increasingly informed by young people aged 18-25. They have been involved as grant assessors and panel members for our Incubator Fund and Next Gen Fund, for example.
Whilst we’re confident we are doing some good work in this area we recognise we could do more to involve children and young people under 18. So as part of the fund refinement process we partnered with three projects to deliver a series of consultation workshops for younger groups. These were: Jubacana (Oldham), MAC Makes Music (Birmingham), and Soft Touch Arts (Leicester).
Through these workshops we wanted to know:
- How can Youth Music involve children and young people more in our grant making?
- What should the application process look like? What should Youth Music be looking for in organisations?
- And finally – what are the ingredients of an excellent music project, or inspirational music leader?
What we did
Jubacana is a youth-led fusion music and dance project based in Oldham for young people aged 8-18. This session was delivered with Jubacana Director Holly and Project Manager Freya (also a former participant).
Workshop activities included:
- A mock funding panel where groups were given project examples and a limited grant budget. They set their own criteria of what was important to them and talked through pros and cons of the projects. They then decided where the funding should go.
- A ‘draw your own music leader’ session, where they explored ideal qualities they’d want to see.
- Feedback and discussion session on statements focused on youth voice and participation.
MAC Makes Music provides musical activities for groups with limited access to music provision. A core strand of their work supports disabled children and young people, who were the target group for this workshop.
This session was designed with Liz Birch (Music Leader and former Guest Artist of MAC Makes Music’s in-house band SWITCH). The session was split into two groups: one in-person (for those aged 9-17yrs) and one online (14-20yrs).
- The groups were asked how much they dis/agreed to statements about youth voice, followed by discussion. Liz then assigned a different musical value to each response, turning the feedback into an interactive music track.
- Like the Jubacana workshop there was a ‘draw your own music leader’ activity.
- The online session included a discussion on the application process and steering groups.
Soft Touch Arts run creative activities to engage children and young people. They deliver a music programme where they run drop-in sessions in their studio and performance spaces.
The workshop followed a ‘surgery’ format where young people aged 10-25 sat with Youth Music for 10-15 minutes (either 121 or in small groups) over the course of an afternoon. Topics didn’t focus just on youth voice and participation either. We spoke about funding opportunities for young people, how to build careers in music, and more.
What we learnt
- Steering groups: It’s key that organisations (including Youth Music) provide platforms for children and young people to have a genuine influence on programmes. Steering groups were the preferred option of including young people in decision-making. One Jubacana band member said: “steering groups are important, as it means we always have a say”.
- Applying: Children and young people want to be accurately represented in funding proposals. This could be through a mixed-media approach to applying (e.g., a video application). Or by looking closely at social media content to build a fuller understanding of an organisation. As the Soft Touch Arts group put it: “this means Youth Music can see projects and the young people they support ‘live’.”
- Youth Music being ‘on the ground’: It’s essential Youth Music keep listening to young people to ensure our practice stays inclusive and relevant. Running regular co-design workshops is a great way to do this. One group emphasised the importance of Youth Music going out on visits to see projects in person to see their impact first-hand. The benefit goes both ways, with all groups agreeing that the process helped demystify who Youth Music is to them. They also found it useful to hear about opportunities for young people (e.g., Next Gen Fund).
- Collaboration is key: We asked the groups what makes a good music project. Every member of the MAC Makes Music group agreed that being able to make friends and play music with other people was important. Young people from Soft Touch Arts said that music projects can become “safe spaces for collaboration” that support musical and personal growth. For the Jubacana group, collaboration across different projects is key as it expands what’s available to young people. They said: “partners are important, as they create new opportunities.”
- Make it musical: Each session had a musical element and we found playing or listening to music together was a great icebreaker. Youth Music joined Jubacana’s band for the day and were taught how to play songs written by bandmembers. At MAC Makes Music as well as creating a track we gathered responses using musical instruments (e.g., five strums of a ukulele means ‘strongly agree’). Finally, at Soft Touch Arts Youth Music were invited to their regular Friday open-mic night where young people who are part of their music projects performed original tracks and had a Q&A session with a well-known local grime artist.
What we're doing
- We’re setting-up a steering group of young people aged 8-12 to feed into our grant making practices. We see this as a long-term and iterative process, starting with the launch of the Trailblazer Fund.
- Applicants can now choose a variety of formats to apply to Youth Music. This could be a video, presentation deck, or written statement.
- We’ve reshaped questions we ask to increase emphasis on why co-design is important, how it works, and how it can be evidenced.
- We’re stressing the importance of looking at social media to get a clearer, more rounded picture of an organisation ‘in action’. We’ve written guidance on this for grant assessors, and we’ll tell applicants why we’re doing it.
- We’re emphasising the value of project visits. We’re creating guidance on how to incorporate consultation as part of each visit. This will help to maintain a direct feedback loop with children and young people.
- We’ve created a Youth Voice Resource Hub to provide more support to organisations to develop youth voice practice.
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