Challenge London check in: 11 by 11 Culture Bank

Maggie Connolly tells us how the pandemic has provided opportunities to more fully focus their work on the needs of their communities

28 January 2021

Students at Copenhagen Primary watch a virtual pantomime via a live stream organised by 11 by 11. Credit: Copenhagen Primary via Twitter

11 by 11 Culture Bank are one of the initiatives receiving investment through A New Direction’s Challenge London programme, and are Islington's Local Cultural Education Partnership.

In this blog, Maggie Connolly, Cultural Enrichment Officer at Islington Council, tells us how their work has changed in response to the pandemic.

Cultivating a fair approach to culture

In a year marked by hardship, 11 by 11 Culture Bank has worked tirelessly to ensure the pandemic’s effects on access for Islington’s children and young people are mitigated wherever possible. Our team has focused on finding ways to work collaboratively on behalf of the borough’s schools and cultural sector, and we are delighted that A New Direction has awarded us a second year of Challenge London funding to advance our work.

11 by 11 is an Islington Council-led call to action for the council, schools and cultural organisations to work together to place culture at the heart of every child’s learning and development. The wider programme’s goal is equity of access to enrichment activity for Islington’s children and young people, particularly targeting those who are most in need.

The broader programme offers free cultural experiences to schoolchildren, and this delivery is underpinned by 11 by 11’s Challenge strand, Culture Bank. Through Culture Bank, we offer a wraparound service of support and training for teachers, the cultural sector and our Council colleagues, give space for the voices of young people most in need and gather research on the borough-wide initiative to centre enrichment at the heart of Islington’s work with children and young people.

It has been a pleasure to see a highly committed level of engagement from our 11 by 11 stakeholders – we recognise how lucky Islington is to be a borough so rich in arts and cultural opportunity. As we move into the second year of the initiative, we want to build on this commitment to create a framework for the public, cultural and education sectors to come together, share practice, and collaborate. Our long-term aim is for 11 by 11 to become an embedded initiative in Islington, with culture a key component of our way of working with children and young people.

Building a community

We have focused heavily on supporting strong relationships across the borough with all partners who have an interest in supporting growing the cultural community for all. The importance of these relationships is built into the design of 11 by 11 Culture Bank, from the structure of our management and meetings, to the focal points for our training and collaborative opportunities.

To promote sustainability, we must ensure we are supporting all our stakeholders to know one another, understand the opportunities and challenges each sector faces, and create spaces for all parties to work and learn collaboratively, building a shared vision for cultural provision in Islington.

We have created new cross-sector Steering Groups focused on enrichment, and we intend to showcase their learning through opportunities for teachers and cultural providers to meet and share expertise, building networks within and beyond the programme itself. This relationship building will also ensure that we can place children, young people and schools’ needs at the heart of planning and activity to create relevant and attractive programming. At a time when so many of the cultural partners we work with have been grappling with difficult decisions about their futures, we can ensure as a team and a network that we are actively planning opportunities for the sector to build confidence.

Learning together

When we asked ourselves how we should best realign our work at a time when the words ‘the new normal’ never seem far from our lips, we realised that both we and our stakeholders are in a process of learning as well. We have therefore looked to platform this as we proceed.

The oversight and activity structures we have set up will be enhanced by the training offered through Culture Bank, ensuring a well-prepared and networked borough, with professionals who understand a variety of ways of accessing and promoting enrichment.

We have expanded our training programme based on our desire to offer a strong programme of support to the cultural sector. New sessions on offer bring the education and cultural sector together with our local authority colleagues, and topics are drawn from findings across our year one delivery, including anti-racism and allyship, wellbeing, technical skills and creative facilitation. This helps us provide excellent quality experiences for schools going forward and takes steps to create a resilient and agile community around 11 by 11 stakeholders and partners.

Centring voices least heard

One of the most important aspects of developing year two of Culture Bank has been to create a stronger structure around how we consult with those young people most in need within Islington.

We have redesigned our existing Youth Voice programme to align with our 11 by 11 commitment to work with groups of vulnerable children and young people. These cohorts face the most barriers when accessing enrichment opportunities and are also usually the voices most unheard.

Our original process involved utilising local teachers to identify young people who might benefit from the programme. Due to Covid-19, this was refocused to channel delivery to a smaller cohort of young people working with the Children’s Active Involvement Service (CAIS).

CAIS serves children in need, young people in children's homes and foster placements who live in Islington and those placed in other London Boroughs or parts of the country. The service is here to listen to young people and make improvements based on what they tell us it is like to be looked after by Islington.

We were pleased that the changes we made during lockdown allowed us to co-deliver meaningful work with a group of young people who already worked together and so were familiar and had a comfortable group dynamic. They also had similar challenges, and we were able to provide support for these, such as a translator for the sessions. Participants had positive feedback, and the process felt valuable and successful for all involved, prompting our further changes.

For the second year of the programme, we will formalise this work with key council services to work with smaller groups of young people on bespoke pilot projects with Youth Voice at the heart. We hope this work will not only provide a new way of working for the council but will provide ways for council services to embed youth voice creatively into their service delivery.

We also intend to commission action research exploring our approach to embedding culture in our ways of working with children and young people, both through the curriculum with schools and through targeted work with those most disadvantaged in partnership with targeted council services. We hope this research will benefit other partnerships, particularly in understanding how to work with local councils and those supporting more vulnerable young people.

It is too soon to say how the pandemic will affect our long-term ways of working. However, if we must look for a silver lining within our work over this difficult year, it would be that this time has allowed us to focus 11 by 11 and Culture Bank more fully towards the needs of our communities. We look forward to this work and updating the A New Direction team further.

Where next?

More Challenge London blogs

Find out more about 11 by 11 culture bank

Find out more about Challenge London

Find out more about Local Cultural Education Partnerships