At the end of 2011 we organised four focus groups with arts organisations to find out their hopes and fears in relation to work with children and young people and gather thoughts on the possible role of the Bridge. We also undertook online surveys asking for the views of people working in the sector.
As we all know London has a large and diverse pool of cultural organisations from international icons to brilliant arts based youth clubs and centres. We knew we would not be able to get a representative picture of all these players in the time we had (basically November 2011 to February 2012) but we thought it was important to start somewhere. So we targeted organisations funded by the Arts Council to undertake work with children and young people.
The key challenges that organisations said they faced were around sustaining services, communicating with schools and evidencing their outcomes.
Urgent concerns were around changes to the national curriculum which could marginalise the arts and pressure on all funding streams particularly local authority budgets. There is a sense that some schools are 'saturated' with approaches from cultural organisations while other schools get very little. And there was worry about young people's progression in the sector - are we failing to offer real opportunities to develop talent and interest? And how well as we responding to the 'drop-off' in engagement post age 15?
The priorities for the bridge were varied, but the most commonly proposed were around campaigning and providing a voice for organisations, facilitating knowledge sharing and promoting and supporting quality improvement.
We are very clear that we can only make a difference through our work by providing a space for the sector to come together and act on key issues. In our online survey we asked people if they wanted to get involved in the Bridge and 97% said they would like to be involved and 81% said they would be prepared to offer time, resources or space to help move the programme forward in London.
It's early days but from our conversations so far we think that there is a need and desire for strategic activity in work with children and young people in London. Hopefully we can start to have open (and possibly sometimes difficult) conversations about how we work as a sector and to what extent we are meeting the needs and aspiration of our young people.