Scale, equality & fairness - a strategy for Barking & Dagenham

19 December 2019

Martin Russell tells us why Barking & Dagenham's Local Cultural Education Partnership Strategy gives him hope for the future... and sleepless nights!

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I am the Cultural Education Partnership Development Coordinator for the Barking and Dagenham Local Cultural Education Partnership (LCEP). I’ve been in role for just over 9 months, although the LCEP in Barking and Dagenham has been going since 2012. Prior to this role I had worked for an NPO in Essex as their Head of Creative Learning and Talent and had peripherally been involved in establishing two other LCEP’s in the county.

In the time I have been in role a key task has been shaping a three year strategy document with Nigel Sagar, Senior School Improvement Adviser and LCEP Lead. Now, I’m not going to spend the remaining 500 or so words ‘banging on’ about the importance of the role of a strategy, the content of a strategy, outcomes, outputs, measurables etc. etc. There are better professionals out there that A New Direction can get in to write a blog about that. Instead, I’d like to be a bit more frivolous, and talk about me and why I like our strategy!

An interesting fact: Barking and Dagenham is home to the Becontree Estate - at one point the largest public housing project in the world - and as we prepare to celebrate its centenary, is still the largest housing project undertaken in Europe, and a crucial piece of 20th Century architecture. It took 14 years to build, has 3 parks, 91 different styles of architecture and 140,000 people living on it. It is still an innovative, socially motivated infrastructure project of scale, with welfare, wellbeing and equality of its residents at its core.

I think it is fair to say in this borough we don’t do things by halves, and the same goes for our CEP Strategy!

Barking and Dagenham punches above its weight on so many levels, and that is down to the people. I have met Headteachers willing to place innovation at the heart of their schools; teachers whose belief in arts, creativity and opportunity impacts the wellbeing of their students in profound ways; cultural organisations who are committed to long term relationships with schools to better their own understanding of engagement, and young people with talent, motivation and powerful voices. I’m sure as arts and education professionals we all have our own case studies and best examples of the above. However, none of us can say that we have seen all of the above in every school or cultural organisation. It’s not universal. It’s not applicable to every child and young person… yet.

Our LCEP Strategy, much like the Becontree Estate, is about scale, equality, equity and fairness. Culture and creativity should not be ringfenced for the few; high-quality experience through cultural education enables imagination, confidence, ambition, persistence and wellbeing. Learning of this kind makes for resilient people who know who they are and don’t give up. Surely we want this for all of our young people?

The cottages of the Becontree provided homes for heroes - our strategy is a home for our educational heroes. We have an ambition to support those who, in spite of growing workloads, shrinking budgets, restricted time and negative policies, still adhere to values and deliver opportunities that maximise artistic and creative ambition.

For those cultural champions, our strategy is their strategy. It acknowledges that they are right in their decision making and delivery. It consolidates their approaches and holds them in the spotlight of best practice.

For those who are emerging on their cultural journey, who have a bit of space and time to think about prioritising arts, culture and creativity, our strategy is their strategy. It brings them in and says there is something here for you – support, guidance, opportunity, recognition and ambition.

For those partners who are not there yet, our strategy is their strategy. A route map to a place in the future where all young people can access opportunities and experience great art and creativity. We’ll see you at some point down the line.

Ultimately, this strategy has young people at its core. They are the golden thread that links all of the partners, the distribution list and the content of the LCEP Strategy. It recognises that there is a lot of talent and potential in the borough. For all young people, this strategy is determined to ensure that entitlement, that right, for all to access quality artistic, cultural and creative opportunities and experiences. For some, this will turn into a credible and realistic pathway into a career and future.

No partnership is ever easy. It shouldn’t be easy aligning and sharing priorities, aims, goals and ambitions. It takes understanding and openness. I like our strategy because it is hard, it's ambitious, it’s a lot of work, but it lets us imagine what the future and what a sum greater than its parts could look like. For example, 100% of schools in Barking and Dagenham registered and working towards Artsmark would be a huge step towards creative equality and the success of a cultural entitlement for young people…

I may like it, but it does make my eye twitch at the thought of trying to achieve it! I suppose a good strategy is a balance of dreams and sleepless nights!

A New Direction supports Local Cultural Education Partnerships (LCEPs) across London. Local Cultural Education Partnerships (LCEPs) are cross-sector, strategic partnerships that work together to unite and improve cultural education for children and young people in their local area.

While all LCEPs are working together towards the same goal - making a long-term and sustainable impact on cultural education in their areas - each LCEP is very different. They are all locally driven and rooted in the specific challenges and opportunities of their place.

Find out more