In recent times a variety of youth centres have closed across the West Midlands. This wider issue is reflected in other regions as Unison published a national report in 2016, on the social consequences of government and local authority budget cuts leading to youth centres closing or severely reducing their offerings.
Our work in developing mindset, financial literacy and employability stretches across multiple regions and social strata. Our approach of using the arts & culture to engage, tackle and ameliorate the various challenges that young people go through, has been a key. Music has been one of the most effective and versatile medium for getting positive results and changing lives.
However we have observed some critical challenges coming together for a particular region of the West Midlands. To give a brief regional context. The NW region of Birmingham (Handsworth, Aston, Newton, Hockley) is the gateway toward the neighbouring borough/ local authority known as Sandwell. Birmingham is the largest local authority in Europe – with the North West region housing a wide range of cultures but has historically struggles with challenges of social deprivation, worklessness and youth violence; whilst Sandwell is a much smaller local authority often in the bottom percentile of children services leagues and is on a campaign to overcome decades of poor life outcomes for its citizens. Both areas had youth centres run by churches, local communities and the local authorities.
These 2 regions respectively housed high quality arts centres both could be accessed within 15 miles for residents of Sandwell looking for a Birmingham offering and vice versa. The Aston region housed a cultural arts centre well noted for hosting music events and development workshops for the range of cultures in surrounding areas – since the 90’s, The Drum had a history of hosting edgy arts platforms that mainstream arts organisations may avoid. In tandem the Public was Sandwell’s best modern arts and cultural offering, it’s opening in 2008 was a timely opportunity for young creatives in a growing You Tube world, independent artists with entrepreneurial mindsets of music making. For the young people living in these socially challenging areas of the West Midlands, there was access to high quality venues with spaces to perform and show their talents and spaces to rehearse and practice more. There was a relationship between youth centres that would incubate the young people and their talent, with the Public or The Drum would host the final performances. There was a good access to progression for music performers that were ready to progress from school performances to wider public performances.
Sadly between 2013 and 2016, both The Public and The Drum shut down. At the same time, youth centres went through a range of redundancies being made and centres closing their doors or reducing their opening times and access to qualified practitioners in the arts. Aspire4U CIC has been looking at ways to offer young people additional opportunities t rehearse and perform more.
We worked to build relationships with music studios as rehearsal spaces so that there were safe spaces for young people to develop their art and also develop good professional networks. Then we partnered with Simmer Down Festival and managed their 2nd Music stage. We worked with them to allow the stage to be for young emerging artists from Birmingham and The Black Country (collective name for Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall, Wolverhampton areas of the West Midlands). This festival drew 20,000 people and we gave 30 young people a chance to perform and a further 47 young people got experiences in music events management.
We think in the absence of clear policy for developing youth support, it falls on us as a community of organisations working with young people to grow an alliance with music studios and festivals to get them to ring fence space, time and platforms for young emerging talent to access their facilities or offering. We have observed the growth of festivals across our region, however the young people we speak with have said they tried writing to organisers and weren’t getting feedback. However when we as an organisation brokered conversations, results were shown. We believe that our organisations have a role to play to help create opportunities in the absence of government or state support. We invite other organisations to email us (firstname.lastname@example.org) if interested in collaborating with us to help grow a network of music studios and festivals that care about youth making music, so that young people have added motivation and progression opportunities. We have more festivals and high profile PR events lined up with well known brands wanting to break into the Midlands.