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Innovate – Fresh thinking for everyone

An article written by Nicky Dewar, Programme Manager at Sound Connections.

Having returned from observing one of our current Innovate projects I’ve been thinking about how important the programme is to Sound Connections’ work.

Hands-on approach

Last Wednesday I spent two hours in small community space in an outer London borough, observing and talking to the lead musician, her volunteers and assistants and the different project participants. Although our diaries are busy, seeing a project in action is fundamental. However well written and enthusiastically described the proposed activity is, it can’t let you see the faces of those taking part at the moment of sheer joy at joining in or achieving something new. During my visit I saw some great interactions between musicians and children, I heard what the session meant to participants and I saw useful examples of good project administration. I am now able to share my reflections and recommendations with the leader that will help her explore next steps for the project and how she might develop her own skills.

A strategic response

In this way, the Innovate programme encapsulates many of our key responsibilities – the aims for our organisation’s role within the music education sector – providing financial support, practical guidance, forging new connections, and advocacy. In doing so Innovate provides the potential for a project to be more impactful in wide-ranging ways.

Since the programme’s conception in 2007 we were clear that the opportunity needed to support individuals as such a large percentage of our community are freelancers or those making a living though a portfolio of employment activities. We also knew that small or new organisations saw Innovate as an opportunity to gain experience and recognition in a competitive field. And more recently we have established, larger organisations engaging with Innovate as a way to test radical approaches they hope to add to their offer.

“We value enormously the opportunity gained through the Innovation programme.”

Adele Drake, Liquid Vibrations

These motives provide Innovate with a clear strategic relevance. The music making opportunities we offer to our children and young people need to be reflective, both to understand what works and, more importantly, consider why things don’t work. We need to share that in an open and honest way and in doing so can build a quality experience that has the power to make a real difference. How else can practice respond to a changing landscape of need, technology and policy?

“As a result of this project we have good evidence of what benefits this sector derive from musical activity. We have a clearer understanding of what is wanted and the best ways to facilitate it.”

Melanie Jones, Family Fantasia

Strengthening the sector

Innovate is currently embedded into our work funded through our Youth Music Fund C grant. This has enabled us to offer three rounds of Innovate projects between 2015 and 2018. The number of projects and amount of funding is small. But that larger offer of support adds incalculable value. The benefit of working with a few projects each year allows us, specifically the Programme Managers at Sound Connections, to develop a close working relationship with each individual or organisation. From the launch of application to the final reporting could span a period of 20 months. This length of time allows us to get to know the leaders, their aspirations and needs. By using a combination of mentoring and coaching we can offer as much or little bespoke support as is required. It becomes clear which areas may benefit from further development and how we can offer guidance to strengthen activity or the individuals themselves.

“It’s amazing that Sound Connections offer this programme. It is so useful. I feel so supported.”

The large majority of Innovate projects find the experience hugely beneficial and for many it can often be the start of an ongoing relationship with Sound Connections that continues to offer numerous advantages.

The future for Innovate

Beyond 2017 we will need to raise further funds to continue the Innovate Programme. As we collect success stories we can demonstrate that our role as critical friend has been crucial.  We hope to strengthen our evidence base to secure greater funding from funders who themselves see the benefit of taking a risk and experiment with innovation.

We want Innovate to remain a key part of our offer and to continue to allow those wild-card ideas to be thoroughly explored and new approaches meeting the needs of our young people.

To apply for our Innovate Programme, click here and download the application forms >

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