Working with local authority teams #3: Making connections, from Essex Music Service

Photo of Hannah Conacher, Business Manager at Essex Music Service

Despite the fact that local authority teams can be one of the most effective ways of reaching children and young people, it can be difficult to know where to start. Hannah Conacher, Business Manager at Essex Music Service shares her tips for making connections.  

Two things that we have learned through contacting other teams at the Council are:

  1. People who work with, or for, young people are generally very passionate about what they do. As soon as you say something that resonates with them, or makes them think about a particular individual or group of young people they are working with, they will be very engaged. Always think about the impacts you are looking to have on young people with your music programme to create that link with colleagues.
  1. It may not be true at all Councils, but we have found here that teams at the Council may not even know the Council has a Music Service. When they do realise, the perception can often be a slightly outdated view of only delivering traditional peripatetic work. Whilst this is an important part of what we do, we try and dispel any myths up front and lead the conversation with references to our inclusion work or something that can instantly grab attention such as rap, or songwriting or music technology.

Your Local Authority (LA), like ours, probably has an active intranet or a communication channel like an enews, that has regular news items highlighting the work of particular teams.  It probably also has a phone book with team names and some idea of hierarchy. When we have specific projects in mind, we proactively use the LA Intranet to research which teams might have direct connections with either vulnerable young people or close relationships with schools and contact them either via email or by finding their office space to introduce ourselves and arrange a chat to explore whether there was any potential in working together.

This was, of course, before we were all working from home but we found that approaching teams and introducing ourselves as coming from the Music Service was often enough of a surprise to spark a conversation.

Working with the Virtual School

We were fortunate that the Virtual School team sat near to us in the office. We were able to share stories about some of the work we were doing in schools and the impact it was having on their education. As a result, some years ago, the Virtual School generously funded individual 1-1 lessons for any LAC in our Local Authority. We now have a strong working relationship with the Virtual School and the offer is advertised on our website and promoted by the Virtual Team through  their regular school visits.   

The Virtual School also supported the nurture group model of delivery to develop the socialisation of looked-after children. We ran a nurture groups programme of 10 sessions in a few different school and education settings, and they match funded them.

Regular communication has been key. This has meant that we’re able to talk about all the different ways we can deliver musical activities into schools, and they have been able to talk about other funding pots they might be able to access. They’re a really collaborative team and have been happy to think about different and innovative ways we can deliver to young people. 

For example, whilst school lockdowns have been in place, we have offered a ‘Songwriting for wellbeing’ programme to schools who have a Looked After Child in their setting, funded by the Virtual School. This has been delivered through weekly 30-minute virtual lessons, directly into the classroom with any home learners able to log in as well.  

Alongside this, we ran the same programme as a virtual after-school club so that individual Looked After Children were able to log on from home and have the same experience if their school had not taken up the offer. We have found it a particularly effective way of reaching secondary-aged Looked After Children. To promote it, we created a flyer with the Virtual School and sent it to all schools with pupils who are Looked After Children, as well as sending it to social workers working with children in care.

Working with other teams

Asking someone you know to put you in contact with someone else they know always seems to generate the best results. Both the Virtual School and other teams we work with within the Education Directorate will help by giving us names of people in teams who they think may be responsive to an approach from our team. They can also help you to start to build a picture of what each team’s remit is. 

And of course when we have specific funding in place for projects, so that the project is ‘free’ or low-cost, that usually acts as an incentive.   Examples include:

  • funding from the Virtual School to reach out to social workers and adopter teams
  • inclusion funding to reach out to Youth Services (for example, to work with young carers groups) and Youth Offending Teams and Divisional Based Intervention Teams who work with particularly vulnerable young people
  • early years readiness funding for contacting EYFS Strategy teams and School Improvement teams. 

We have also found it effective to approach a team with an idea of funding that you may be able to apply for in partnership – not necessarily funding that you’ve already secured. This starts your relationship out in a collaborative space and means you are working together equally on a shared outcome. This might be a funding deadline that is approaching, or it might be that you are aware of a common strategic goal.

It is worth reaching out to a number of different teams at a time as not all will have the time or capacity to respond to you immediately. 

Sometimes, a more creative and experienced based approach can help! For example, we ran a session with all Senior Leaders across the Education Directorate demonstrating the power of Music, and facilitated them all taking part in a drumming activity. This then led to additional invitations for us to go and deliver similar workshops to other full Council Teams and helped raise the awareness of the Music Service offer and dispel with the old model of delivery that we have all moved on from.  

A few final tips

  • Using video footage of what can be achieved is a very powerful way of connecting with new colleagues.

    In previous work we have completed as part of our Changing Tracks project, we have a video recording of a song written by a vulnerable young person reflecting on their life experiences, which they wrote, recorded and produced in collaboration with one of our tutors. This video enabled us to show the Youth Offending Team that we understood what kind of music the young people they work with would be interested in, as well as quickly demonstrating an activity that would engage them.
  • If you are emailing out to new teams or colleagues, make your approach simple, direct and not too lengthy! Focus on clear outcomes you have achieved and express an interest in working collaboratively. 
  • If you are able to convert that email to a meeting, go in with an aim of gaining a better understanding of the young people that team work with – rather than selling your services – and try and match their desired outcomes with work you are able to confidently deliver.

Our last piece of advice is to remember that it won’t always work out like you expected, but it is always worth having a go!

Also in this series:

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 peer networks – one of which is facilitated by Music Mark – 

training and consultancy, advice and resources.

Find out more about us, or check out the other resources and blogs on this site for more helpf for music services, and visit the AMIE Musical Inclusion Resource Hub for more inclusion tools and guidance, blogs, videos, and case studies

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