This autumn saw the launch of the Shropshire Children and Young People’s Cultural Consortium (SYPCC). The new initiative brings together cultural bodies from across the county, including arts and heritage organisations, schools and educational institutions, libraries and museums, independent arts practitioners and youth service providers, all with the common purpose of maximising cultural opportunities for children and young people in the county.
Salla Virman, Director of The Hive in Shrewsbury, explains how the initiative came about:
“Back in 2014, Alyson Lanning – previous Director of The Hive – initiated conversations with Arts Connect about how to improve cultural provision for children and young people in Shropshire and the idea of a network came forth from there. Together with Arts Connect we invited an initial group of 10 organisations to join us – Meadow Arts, Arts Alive, Wem Town Hall, Media Active, SMEP, Pentabus, Shropshire Council, Theatre Severn and Scrappies. Arts Council England also joined the conversation, and together we worked up a vision and rationale for our existence.
“The first major piece of work we did was to commission a county-wide survey of cultural provision for children and young people. The findings showed that whilst there is good reach and depth of activity, there were gaps in the county’s offering, particularly around work with schools and opportunities to undertake Arts Award. But what was really heartening was the willingness of organisations across the county to contribute and to work together with the common goal of maximising opportunities for children and young people. Together our voice is louder: we can learn from each other, improve our skills and make sure amidst the difficult financial situation that this important work continues to happen.”
Annabel Gittins, Library Commissioning Manager for Children and Young People at Shropshire Council, was particularly keen for the county’s library service to be involved in the consortium. She explains,
“We were approached to contribute statistics to the research report but I felt that libraries could offer much more than just facts and figures. Our geographical spread and open access to all means that we have a great reach to people across the county. We have much to offer our partners but we too can learn from them: we urgently need to encourage more Young People to the libraries and by working with organisations experienced in this age-group, we will be able to improve our offer. Already we are making new connections. Really, we all want the same thing, which is to improve the well-being of our communities.”
The intention now is to grow the membership of the consortium so that it becomes an unmissable advocate for creativity in the county and beyond. That work has already begun: a launch event in October 2015 was incredibly well attended, with artists, schools, funders, councillors and representatives from Arts Council England there to hear the consortium’s vision. Future aspirations include a dedicated arts festival for children and young people, and planned engagement with schools to make it easier for teachers to navigate the county’s cultural offer. As Annabel Gittins puts it, “together, we can achieve more”.
Salla Virman, Director, The Hive
Annabel Gittins, Library Commissioning Manager for Children and Young People, Shropshire Council
“The development of Cultural Education Partnerships (CEP) across the West Midlands is part of the Arts Council’s Cultural Education Challenge to bring great arts to children and young people The Shropshire Consortium is a great example of people coming together to collaborate across sectors and begin to address, as a group, some of the issues of a large rural authority.”