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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. 

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Working with local authority teams #2: Five questions to help understand partner teams

Southampton Music logo

Matt Brombley, Development Manager at Southampton and Isle of Wight Music Hubs, works with partner teams inside Southampton City Council (where his team is based) as well as outside organisations. He outlines why this is important, and how he approaches partnership working.

Diagram depicting partnership working between a music service, funder and partner organisation.

Our partnership work has been key to reaching children and young people who are currently under-represented in what we do, often facing challenging circumstances in their lives. It is meaningful in many ways, but two stand out to me most.

First, the moral and social benefits of helping bring the life-changing power of music to the children and young people who can benefit most. Secondly, the additional resource and expertise that comes from working alongside people with other skills, knowledge, understanding and experiences. It is worth noticing that both of these benefits are of value not just to our organisations, but to external funders also.

When working with a new team or partner, I have five questions that I like to ask, to try and better understand who they are, and what we may be able to do together:

  1. What are the challenges your team is facing at the moment? 
  2. What are the challenges and barriers children and young people are facing?
  3. What previous music and arts projects have you run? What was successful and what would you change?
  4. What kind of outcomes are important to you? How do you need to evidence them?
  5. When and where do you engage with your children, young people and their families?

I’m looking to understand important aspects of the other team, rather than make assumptions.

We all know how important it is to listen first to understand: and so I’m, looking to identify:

  • shared experiences
  • shared priorities
  • shared approaches

When working in partnership, we don’t need to understand everything about each other, but it’s helpful to identify where we have common ground. 

If I’m working with a funder, I might also be looking for common goals between three or more stakeholders. Then I can:

  • offer to help
  • ask for help 

The offer to help can now be founded on shared understanding, and I can also be open about where we will need their expertise and experience to make any shared work stronger. By identifying shared experiences, priorities and approaches, we can both find common ground, but also see where each party’s unique strengths can contribute to better, stronger, outcomes.

Case Study: Virtual School, Family Music Lessons for Looked After Children

In Southampton, we applied these principles to the conversations we had with Virtual School, helping us to identify shared priorities and ways to work together. 

Put simply, we knew Looked After Children were much less likely to be learning a musical instrument than their peers, and Virtual School knew Looked After Families were looking for shared experiences that could help build bonds between family members (embracing the widest definition of family).

In this case, that also overlapped with the priorities of the Changing Tracks Action Research programme, and so we were able to secure funding for a pilot project which saw Looked After Families take part in Family Music Lessons. 

By looking to understand the Virtual School team better before making our offer, we were able to provide something they really wanted, and needed.

It wasn’t perfect the first time — we learnt a lot through our Action Research project which now has helped make our wider offer more accessible to Looked After Children and their families, as well as shaping future music making for Looked After Children — but starting the relationship with a spirit of listening and learning, helped set us in the right direction from the beginning.

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

Essex Music Education Hub logo


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!