Connecting London with Culture

On Friday I attended a really stimulating event led by A New Direction, a sharing event for its Connected London programme (supported by the Innovation Unit). One of my new roles is Learning Co-ordinator of the World Heritage Site of Maritime Greenwich, and as a local partnership we are recent recipients of Connected London support. We are working on a Maritime Greenwich curriculum, producing CPD and toolkits to help put the unique arts, environment and heritage of Greenwich at the heart of local schools as they implement curriculum changes. All CL participants have been challenged to explore new strategic opportunities for funding and to trial models for sharing infrastructure for cultural education. We all have different approaches and local needs, but the hope is that, together with Bridge organisations and other schemes, we can come to share infrastructure and plug local gaps in provision.

This is responding to a context of change in London:

  • Major reform to school structures and the new National Curriculum from Autumn
  • Reduced oversight by Local Authorities over all schools
  • LA’s shifting from being local regulators to ‘placemakers’ leading some major developments (e.g. Royal Docks £22 bn scheme and 11,000 homes)
  • Predicted population growth of 1 million by 2021
  • A shortage of school places; growing inequality affecting families.
  • There is also, of course, the reduction of support and funding for culture in local authorities and in schools.

But there are some indirect funding opportunities such as:

  • European support for Local Enterprise Partnerships (£616 million)
  • £21 billion capital investment for the growth in school demand and fragmentation of school systems
  • the Section 106 community infrastructure levy on development projects – which can fund local culture
  • £50 million for the early years pupil premium from 2015-16.

Most of the challenge projects shared their learning so far:

  • Ealing Music service talked about scaling up through projects to becoming a more fully fledged Cultural Hub, one project being based at Pitshanger Manor, working with two artists, two musicians and two schools to explore ‘entertainment’.
  • The Hive in Croydon described success in working with Croydon Music & Arts (and is forming a much closer partnership) using the Children’s University model to expand provision from music across the arts, using its passport system to track children’s participation and rewarding with Arts Awards, graduation ceremonies and so on.
  • The Pumphouse Gallery in Wandsworth described their work to build a strategic role in cultural education provision. They’ve consulted primary schools across South West London about barriers to investing in visual arts education. They found teachers don’t want to work in networks across SW London, but much more locally, and that schools really need a co-ordinator for cultural projects and trips. They also addressing the barrier to visual arts in that teachers perceive that it is harder than music to identify progress. Also, interestingly, they have embraced a group of independent schools into collaborative projects with state schools, so that funding comes from the school trust and resources/expertise are shared. This is made possible by the reduced role of Local Authorities.
  • Stratford Circus talked about taking on a broker role with the mission of ‘every child a theatre-goer’ in the context of significant cuts in Newham. They run a tight ship and have to be very tactical and persistent, working with the Primary Partnership Board and CYP Services in Newham.
  • The Roundhouse in Camden (a Bridge associate) also talked about their trial of a system for cultural commissioning. Ten schools filled in a survey about their needs, then followed up by sending a survey form suggesting how cultural providers could meet those needs, which then allowed them to shape four projects. Schools were incentivised to pair up with a buddy school with £500. This process may be repeated annually for more or all Camden schools.

In the afternoon, we took stock and then worked in groups on an identified challenge. I was in the group discussing ‘how to reinvigorate the vision of children’s entitlement to culture’.

Lots of questions struck me over the day, or I was reminded of older thoughts:

  • Just how do we tap those new and unfamiliar sources of funding? For example, how can we convince property developers to support cultural learning with schools?
  • What support is needed for a small agency (e.g. a theatre or Music Service) to scale up to become a Cultural Hub? What capacities do they need to embrace areas such as the visual arts, design and architecture? Or should they leave those to other agencies nearby, or nationals/pan-London organisations?
  • Should we be putting national systems such as Artsmark, Arts Award and other types of arts accreditation at the heart of our plans to develop more strategic provision? How do we work with the structures left over from Extended Schools, Strategic Commissioning (museums, archives and libraries) and Creative Partnerships, as well as the National DCMS bodies and new initiatives arising from the National Plan for Cultural Education, to do this? The projects in Connected London tend to arise from fairly local direct delivery of particular cultural forms, and perhaps there is more to be done to tap these structures for them.
  • Two related questions were asked: Does a Cultural Hub need a building that attracts visits and embodies culture to be successful? Should we be pushing more dissemination of tangible culture (e.g. exhibitions, hands-on spaces) out from organisations like Tate or the Southbank into community centres, libraries or schools? I’d argue for both, I think. There are too many parts of outer London without local access to richly diverse arts centres and museums. The Sage in Gateshead is a good example of a brilliantly resourced and exciting building which also reaches out in strategic ways.
  • What do we mean when we talk about a Cultural Hub? Don’t we mean Cultural Learning Hub? Does it have four core functions? Brokering schools’ access to cultural offers; Developing professional skills of providers; Evaluating impacts of cultural education and advocacy/fundraising; Putting culture at the heart of the curriculum and development of CYP by using structures of accreditation and quality.
  • What do we mean when we talk about culture? How can areas such as anthropology, architecture, ecological arts, museums, design, creative computing, creative science, folk and industrial heritage be fully embraced into the debate when we talk about cultural education?
  • If culture is all this, is a really effective Cultural Learning Hub actually a locally accessible place that enables the development of individual capacities towards thriving,
  •          aided by giving young people agency to improve their locality and their world, which means
  •          tapping all local heritage resources
  •          using creativity to make learning about the world really effective and motivating
  •          providing opportunities for children and young people to experience and progress in all forms of the arts.

At the end of the day, talking about how culture could be advocated as a right like literacy or water, I wondered how we could formulate it in the same terms. We expect water to be: Clean/safe; Where you live; On tap when you need it; and Affordable. Maybe we should expect cultural provision for children & young people to be: Joyful; Giving you choices to experiment broadly or progress deeply; Available where you live; Participatory; Diverse.


One response to “Connecting London with Culture

  1. Thanks for this Bridget! Really interesting perspective on the day.

    Couple of quick clarifiers – A New Direction actually funds this programme, and commissioned the Innovation Unit to help develop it.

    Current info on Connected London can be found here (although we’re tweaking these pages a bit at the moment):

    There’s also a recent blog by Stratford Circus about their work in Newham here:

    Meanwhile, The Roundhouse are not quite a Bridge Organisation – they are one of four ‘Bridge Associaties’ in London (alongside Sadler’s Wells, The Lyric Hammersmith, and Apples & Snakes) who gain currently extra funding on top of their National Portfolio Organisation grants from Arts Council England to play a strategic cultural learning role in London which complements that of A New Direction. Further info on ACE’s Bridge programme nationally can be found here:

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