Working with local authority teams #1: Getting started, from Cambridgeshire Music

Cambridgeshire Music has partnered with a number of local authority teams as part of its Equality, Diversity and Inclusion work with Changing Tracks. This has helped them to identify and work with families and children in challenging circumstances. Alex Bowen, Head of Singing and Curriculum, shares her tips and experiences.

Cambridgeshire Music is the Cambridgeshire County Hub for music education and arts therapies. We’re part of the County Council (although we receive no funding from them), so you might think it would be easy for us to make connections with other teams to bring music to a wider range of children and young people. But like many music services, we’ve had to work hard at this. 

This is partly due to our physical location: we’re based in Huntingdon, away from other teams’ offices. There are hundreds of different teams and departments and they’re spread out across the entire county. Sometimes finding the name of the person or department is the first hurdle to be overcome.

What teams could a music service work with?

There are many different teams that might be interested in working with a music service, from Children’s/Social Services and the Virtual School, to School Improvement and the Youth Offending Team. The County Council teams who have partnered with us on Changing Tracks projects in recent years, are as follows – they may well have different names in your local authority:

  • Early Help Team (20/21) – provides support and intervention for children, young people and families experiencing difficulties
  • Talking Together in Cambridgeshire (2018-2020) – raises awareness of communication, language and literacy development for children aged 0-6 with parents, childminders, practitioners and others in the community.
  • Children’s Centres (2018-2020) – offer groups, events, activities, courses and support for families with children aged 0-19 including support groups, health and development advice
  • Cambridgeshire Library Service (2019-2020) – as well as providing a book loan and related services, the library provides events, e-publications and information about local services

Finding out who to speak to and making the connection

Personal interaction is so important when setting up new work and it’s much easier to establish a new link with someone if you can nip across to their desk and chat with them directly. 

If like us, you can’t do that, it can take a while to firstly identify the right team/department and person you need to speak to and then to pin down via email/phone (usually a mix of both) a date for the initial meeting.

Don’t be put off. It sounds obvious, but ask around – if you already have contacts in other teams, they may know who it’s best to talk to about a particular project or group of young people. They may even be able to make an introduction. Establishing a link with the Early Help Team enabled us to reach staff and set up project work in schools we had previously been unable to contact, and the same could easily apply to reaching another local authority team.

Making initial contact

Once you’ve found out who you need to speak with and made your initial approach, don’t assume that other departments will be aware of what you do (“so, you don’t just do instrumental lessons?”), or that you even exist (“I didn’t realise the county council even had a music service!”). There can also be a high turn-over of staff as people naturally move between positions or departments are restructured, so your well-placed contact may disappear and you’ll have to start from scratch.

Instead, be prepared to talk to them about what you do and why it matters to their work. You may find it helpful to prepare a short document, presentation or video that you can send to them by email before you make the call. Make sure this is written from the point of view of what they need to know, how you can help them with their needs and priorities – perhaps with some quotes or evidence of the impact your work can have.  Also be clear what you’re offering/asking ie why you want the conversation.

Using County Council newsletters for information and promotion

All county councils have internal newsletters and I would encourage you to sign up for any that you think might be useful. Yes, it may mean more emails to go through but within those newsletters are little gems of information and opportunities: CPD, funding pots, workshops and meetings (places where you could make connections), webinars, staff changes … the list is endless. They’re also a good place to spread awareness about the music service so talk to the comms team about what might be suitable for you to contribute.

Other opportunities to make your organisation visible

Think creatively about other ways to get yourself on county council teams’ radars. From attending workshops and meetings (these can still be done online – a Zoom background with your logo on it is a simple technique to raise awareness), to @tagging the County Council on posts on social media channels (or direct messaging them to ask them to share a post). You could take a ‘stand’ at a local authority event, or place one in a foyer. Making the most of a range of opportunities like this has helped to increase both footfall to our website from county council teams, as well as enquiries from them.

Cambridgeshire Music has been working with Changing Tracks since 2018, running action research projects as well as being part of the National Music Services Working Group on Inclusion. More information about their Changing Tracks work will be published on the Partners section of the website soon.

Changing Tracks is a programme of peer support and learning for and with music services wanting to improve equality, diversity and inclusion. It is run by Hertfordshire Music Service and funded by Youth Music as part of the Alliance for a Musically Inclusive England. It was previously called MusicNet East. We help music services to be more inclusive by providing a peer network facilitated by Music Mark, funding for action research, support and challenge, advice and resources.

Find out more about us, or check out the other resources and blogs on this site for more help for music services. You could also visit the AMIE Musical Inclusion Resource Hub for more inclusion tools and guidance, blogs, videos, and case studies, to help you break down barriers to music-making.

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