What should I tell my daughter?

Books. Books are good. If I cannot figure out a way to answer or help my daughter, I buy a book for us both to read and talk about. I know more about dinosaurs then when I was 7 years of age, and I know more now about precipitation and marginal gains than I ever thought possible.

Usually the questions from my daughter arrive in twos. For instance, a while ago I was asked the following questions:

What is the point of humans ?

Followed closely with;

Is pain actually real or something we imagine as being humans and non of it’s really real ?

There is usually an outpouring of stories and questions when we are not sat opposite one another. Car rides are particularly good for this. The back seat of the car, can often yield animated discussion about life. Some of it is school based, but often it is based on books, people, overheard conversations, tv programmes or as I call it “what that hell is that about mummy ?” But despite buying lots of books about important women in history, role models and important valued women. I got this one question last week:

How come some things aren’t equal for girls mummy ?

So, yes there are books that I can share and I HAVE shared. I have quite a lot. I am not short of literature. The question has come after reading ALL of the books. So, who wants to have a conversation with their daughter about equality, and well stuff that every adult woman who I know has had to consider for all of their lives ?

How can I as someone who works in the arts support this learning ? What are we doing in the arts sector to engage and have a good conversation about this with everyone? Empowering girls and learning about consent isn’t just my responsibility surely? Surely its about everyone. It is a fairly obvious. A lot of the books about equality, suffragettes, feminism, activism for women, powerful women are still marketed towards girls. Surely, if we are to talk about safety, consent, misogyny, patriarchy and equality,  we need everyone to read them? Is it really just for girls to figure out for ourselves ? Surely, we need ALL kids to read those books, books about amazing women, girls who challenged, questioned and did something ?

Today I was reading a story about a dad whose son went to school, (reception). His son is into lots of activities; sports, cars, reading, playing, climbing, being silly. Pretty much the standard things that a lot of kids are into. On this particular day at school, he chose to wear nail varnish to school (which was allowed btw). He was teased ALL DAY about it by his peers. He was repeatedly called a girl by his peers about how it was wrong and laughable. He came home with an enormous amount of shame. So, think about it, we as a society are clear that girls should be supported to be empowered, equal in society. There is an endless road to achieving this. But in contrast, if a boy decides to wear and relate to toys/clothes and thing generally associated with girls they are ridiculed and mocked.

So, in the arts sector what do we do to engage children around this subject? Do we actively engage children differently based on their gender ? Are we working hard to actively facilitate a conversation for everyone to take part in ?

So, if I am going to be able to answer the question my daughter posed, “How come some things aren’t equal for girls mummy ?” I will need to do some work as it’s not just about girls. This is going to take more than a few dozen books about history, art and empowerment. It is going to take engagement, talking about good behaviour amongst girls and boys when we see it as well as challenging things when it is difficult.

A last word from her:

” I think if boys read some of the books for girls about power and how to be powerful and sticking up for yourself that would make it more powerful for girls. Girls should do the same and read the books that are about boys. It would make it more powerful. If everyone joined in, then everyone knows to be better and actually IS better”. 

So, we are off to study. Study artists, books and people and do as she says…include friends, boys, girls, everyone. Fancy joining us?

Everyone is talking about it…

This morning, my father sat down in his usual spot with tea in one hand and over buttered toast and jam in the other listening to his raspy untuned radio. It’s a ritual that he repeats every morning.

Today, the voice from the radio informed us that more and more of us are taking solo holidays to manage and support our wellbeing. A mocking tone in his voice, the presenter talked about how ridiculous we have all become as a nation.

Some of us are taking holidays to get away from the people we love. To reboot and repair ourselves.

I have read lots of threads from parents seeking any kind of private time away from their families. Nothing new really. There are hilarious stories about adults retreating to toilets to escape the constant requests from children or partners. We mock and joke about our desire for private time. In contrast, some of us regularly share photos of solo trips around the UK or beyond.

But, increasingly we are a nation of lonely people with growing referrals to gp surgeries for people experiencing isolation.

I recently completed a study about a local area and its “wellbeing” as a community. It is a fascinating concept. What began as a study about young people and their wellbeing, quickly became an exploration of community wellbeing and how we as a collective people work to support one another. It is virtually impossible to explore and develop plans to support children and young people’s wellbeing without looking at the whole picture. With half of all mental illness beginning by the age of 14, its gonna take a village, a town, a community to work together to support one another better. Shockingly, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds.

From speaking to members of the community, the overwhelming comments where that people do like to connect with one another. Slow down and take time to notice.

Just talk. Connect. Take notice.

Share stuff and be kind to people.

Check in with your neighbours, the ones that you see and the ones that you don’t.


Are there any violins?

I find myself in a slight predicament this week. My daughter wants to learn an instrument. A violin. The girl would like to learn the violin. We have spent a long time arriving at this decision, talking about different music, styles and interests.

In my time at school, (a long time ago) music lessons were the other. The class tables were shaped in a horse shoe to face our music teacher with an assortment of musical instruments lined up in front of us. Our poor music teacher was a man of musical passion with a class full of students who did not follow his rules or his passion for play. Instead, he faced mockery and ridicule on a weekly basis. I had no violin lessons or even thought to ask if I could.

So, fast forward to the last ten years and I found myself managing a music inclusion service. I went on to work with Wiltshire Music Service and then the MusicHub for Wiltshire; Wiltsire Music Connect. We are all musical. We can all respond emotionally to music. We know that early communication between parent and child is musical, improvised musical language. It’s a bonding relationship for us.

I could tell you stories about my lack of musicality to back up my old belief. Somehow, I let those stories or past experiences define my engagement with music as I grew up. For me, the breakthrough came with play and interaction with my child. My daughter used to hum to herself when she was being breastfed. We started singing together. As a 7-year-old she still hums to herself when she eats, particularly if it is a good meal. She continues to sing and interact with music. It now shapes a lot of our time and we use it to take notice, tell stories and share good times and laugh a lot.

So, here I am with my own 7-year-old who wishes to learn an instrument. It can be quite daunting to find out how to help your child with this, especially if we carry a voice in our head that tells us that we are ourselves are not musical.

So, here are some tips from one parent to another:

  1. Finding the instrument that they like. We watched lots of youtube videos. We went to a couple of music shops and held instruments and talked to the staff and asked lots of questions. We spoke to friends about their children’s musical journey. We listened to different types of music. We read this book: “You are awesome” by Mathew Syed. It’s not about music at all but about learning something new and getting good at it. There are a lot of youtube videos out there showcasing very talented children. It’s important to remember that they practised A LOT to become good. Finding the right instrument for your child can be difficult. Age is a big issue for when to begin and how to hold your instrument so do your research with your child.
  2. Speak to your school. This might initially be someone on reception but could also be the class teacher or the music lead for the school if they aren’t sure. If you see another child from the school with their parent/guardian with a musical instrument stop and ask them about it ! Depending on what’s available, you could explore one to one teaching or there might be a small group they could join for instrument learning lessons. If not, ask your class if there is anyone interested in the same instrument and go from there.
  3. Cost. You could be entitled to a reduced rate depending on your circumstances. Always worth asking either the school or your local music service or hub for advice and support.
  4. Instruments and hiring them. In fact, try to do that first as it will be very costly for you if you fork out a lot of cash for a new instrument only for your child to state that it isn’t working out for them. Again, if you have spoken to your class or other classes and there are a number of you wishing to learn a particular instrument this could help encourage the school to explore further. Get in touch with your local music hub or music service and ask advice. Get to know your local music shop. They are great spaces to meet and network. If your school simply cannot support the instrument that you want, you might want to consider private tuition in your home or a tutor’s home. Again, ask your music service/hub for advice or your local music shop/musicians union.
  5. Safety first! It may be uncomfortable to ask if someone has a DBS but you simply must especially if you opt for out of school tuition. It should have been issued within the last 3 years. You can go to the Disclosure and Barring Service for more advice. Regardless if another parent is having lessons with this person, ask to see their DBS for yourself. It’s not enough for someone to say they have it or to presume that everyone else checked for you.
  6. What to expect and what to ask for I think a lot depends on your child and how they like to learn and how the music teacher teaches. It is vital that you listen to your child about the kind of music that they are into and finding the best match for your child. Have a read of The Music Education code.
  7. Practice. I remember one of my dear friends who is a music teacher telling me that actually the purpose of a private music lesson is to check learning and to assess next stages and provide encouragement. This lesson is nothing without practice. So, actually the far more important element is the practice in between lessons.
  8. Trial lessons. I can imagine that for some children it just doesn’t work out with some instrument or some tutors. It is worth asking if you can review it after a couple, to check in and consider next steps.
  9. Take part. How about you enjoy it with them! Maybe venture into new territory and learn an instrument as well. A friend told me recently that she was teaching a parent and their child to learn the piano. It sounds excellent and really supported both parent and child to develop and grow their learning in the same space. Sounds good to me.

Right, off I go to explore violins…

The language of democracy in the arts

Recently I have begun working in my local community. It is a first. I have never entered into any working arrangement with or alongside an area that I live in. I feel slightly shy and a bit nail bitten about the proposition of my private home space and working life space rubbing alongside one another for any period of time.

It has got me thinking…How democratic are we with the communities that we are working with ? How much are they involved in deciding what, how, where, when things happen ?

I met the local history group who were really passionate about all things local. They were keen to show me photos of forgotten times, contrasting the old and the new and remarking about what had been lost, changed or torn down. They operated as detectives, exploring, sharing, shaping and piecing together moments in time. They all referenced and acknowledged, involved and offered advice to one another. One person was very keen to explain the history of hedgerows and the number of species living in them while another drew gasps of excitement for road signs and pathways. Another provided a vast array of maps which detailed moments of history, land ownerships, bridle paths as well as family homes. How was it that the local history group were able to engage me about a subject that I felt that I could participate with ? In an area that I didn’t grow up in. Quite simply, they used language that didn’t confuse me. They didn’t refer to me as hard to reach, difficult, troublesome or other. They made me welcome. Their enthusiasm was infectious. They didn’t bowl in with language that I didn’t understand. They simply showed me a variety of ways that I could take part or not whilst stating clearly that there were loads of areas that “we” could explore or not and that they were learning as well. Everything was negotiated and decided as a group. Anyone could join. They seemed to operate quite well, democratically even. They aren’t funded, they aren’t governed and they aren’t paid.

What on earth has any of this got to do with my work ?  After all, I can’t live on air so I need to be paid. Often my work is funded and governed. So, how much of our relationship with language and democracy within the arts is shaped by our funders and the policies that we create to manage ourselves?

“EVERYONE is so goddamnit hard to reach!” I remember one artist saying to me after a long exhausting day.

I know many organisations who have spent lots of time researching and developing a funding proposal. They have worked hard to develop partners and new providers in new areas. But still the numbers are low. Does it matter? Maybe the art form wasn’t quite right. Maybe the timing was off, maybe one of the partners folded (I have personally experienced this!) or maybe the entire youth service has ceased to exist, (I have also experienced this!) or maybe we just didn’t have time to build some of the key areas to help it grow. Or maybe no one wanted what was on offer or didn’t quite understand what the offer was. After all, most communities have their have own view on arts and culture.

So, If we are to talk about working democratically with/for and alongside communities surely we need to admit that we have a sometimes flawed, back to front, upside down approach. Surely we should start by developing a language alongside these communities that they feel part of ? Enough of the elitist language?

I have worked with communities that are incredibly rich with culture and arts but maybe this culture wasn’t “HIGH art” or “HIGH quality”. Therefore it needed some help to really engage. Make it proper.

“But we already have a cinema. We already show films that our community want.”


“They came in with a bunch of new artists to work with our artists. People who we trust, who we knew. It felt like we were being told how to do it. We didn’t even ask them to come here”

The above is a real quote that has stayed with me from the last few years. It does feel a little like we are in danger of turning into missionaries with that kind of approach.

Not very democratic. Certainly not authentic.

Maybe we need to be more like the hedgerow local history lady in our approach with communities. Gentle, timely and clear that we are just as passionate about arts and culture as she is about hedgerows.

Certainly, go where we are needed but also where they want us. Don’t complicate language and embrace ALL art forms and culture. After all, our notion of what is arts and culture is shifting and we need to change with it.

Extending my leadership

Engage Extend Leadership programme A short while ago, a good friend suggested that we both apply for the Extend leadership course. For a while i had been thinking about investing in my leadership, i had stewed over the options and had begun to consider how i could try to make it happen given child care responsibilities as a single parent.

Looking back at my formal arts training (of recent) it had become something of a short story. Not too surprising really. Maintaining a small youth arts led organisation within a local authority is no easy feat. Maintaining a small youth arts led organisation outside of a local authority is no easy feat. However, both feature a number of constraints and challenges which can limit and hinder personal growth.

Of course, you should never take for granted the role of informal learning. For me i have experienced a rich plethora of learning from young people, artists, local authority art leads and community partners which has sustained me and kept me going for all of this time. But i am ever mindful that my own learning desires have fallen short and i have not had time/made time to invest in my own artistic development.

I have allowed it to take a very comfortable back seat while i draw attention to the work of others. It would appear that i am more comfortable to draw attention to others and yet i have over the years yearned for more personal creativity and spotlight. Gulp.

So, in June 2018 i stepped into the arms of the Extend Leadership course. I attended our first residential in Leeds in June. I will take part in a group enquiry with four other people as well as my own personal one to one mentoring.

It is going to be a bit of a rollercoaster. An exciting one.


Different art students


Recently i met a young man and his family. He was clearly gifted and talented. The family were in awe of their son as he continued to dazzle people with his natural talent and passion for the arts. They were completely behind him in his pursuit for creativity and voiced their desire for him to follow his dreams. It was a wonderful and supportive situation to witness.

But it did make me think about his future and other young people like him as they progress through school, college and university.

What about the exclusion of the arts and creative subjects from the new English baccalaureate for secondary school children and how it is already impacting on young people?

What about young people who do not have this support system at home or school?

What happens to their dreams?

In the last year, i have visited a number of secondary school in the UK. On each occasion and for a number of different reasons i have seen a decline in the availability of creative subjects. Some young people have expressed concern about the course content while others have stated that the subjects that they are interested are simply not available to them any longer.

Put simply, those young people who wish to continue studying creative arts are having to reconsider their options and their dreams.

So, if we continue down this route where state schools are not afforded the opportunity to pursue creative subjects, will art degrees become the home of the wealthy?

Are they already?

Friends of mine who currently work as arts lecturers in universities in the UK have spoken to me about the social mix of young people in their lectures. We are already seeing a wide range of young people in terms of nationality at universities but art degrees are far less mixed in terms of class.

It is nothing new that working class families are less likely to access higher education but that those that do take part, the practical core subjects remain the favourite. I remember a friend of mine telling me that his parents would only allow him to go to study art at university if he trained to be a black cab driver on the side.

I don’t know, maybe it is sensible to always ensure that there is a safety net when there isn’t one at home.

I remember my career adviser suggesting that exploring hairdressing was a more realistic goal for me. Tongue firming in cheek this seemed like a ridiculous suggestion given my unruly locks but the reality is that those without that parental safety-net tend to opt for more vocational routes and MAYBE not their dreams. A great loss for all of us.

Working class artist


Six months ago, I broke free from local authority life to venture into something much more unpredictable. The world of freelance or I should say back to the world of freelance. In this time, I have worked with a host of different people and organisations. Taking on project management, writing bids as well as operational and strategic development and data.  I have also taken on the role of co Chair for my daughters local school, the Chair of a local music charity- Evolve and I now regularly support a children’s after school gardening club.

So, what has changed in the freelance world ?

Rates are on the decline. People are working harder for less money and competition is tough. I am also an older woman working in the arts sector. I am also a working class woman working in the arts sector. I am also a working class single parent working in the arts sector. I am also a child of immigrant parents and a working class single parent in the arts sector. This is the first time that i have ever written those words down.

Recently, I was talking to some young people about progression and the chances and choices that they had in furthering their arts engagement in secondary school and beyond. A few stated that they would continue to take part in arts activities with the help of their family and a few stated that they would stop. When asked why, they said that there was no spare money in their family and that they had to consider the other children in their house and their family situation. So, that’s that. Reality strikes. At the age of 11, a child knows their opportunities and limitations. No surprise there I guess.

Now, you might say that we could all work harder to achieve the following:

  • More projects to support the “HARD TO REACH” or ” DISENGAGED” communities.
  • Make better use of pupil premium and other school funding/training for schools.
  • Grow the sector and community engagement.

I think its time for me to admit that I have grown weary and exhausted by the terms “hard to reach” or “disengaged”. I have managed projects under this banner and still do. It is an overused vague term that hails from social care and health, especially in discussion around health and social inequalities. But, if we are increasingly talking about the inequality of class and poverty, factors that influence a child’s and adults progression, why are using such blanket terms for something so problematic ? 

Not every child qualifies for free school meals. Some live just above the threshold. Only a percentage of young people/emerging artists can afford to take part in volunteer opportunities.

Volunteering for some is a luxury.

Imagine that.

Some people do not have a cushion of money. There is nobody to ask for help with rent, bills, food or career progression. For some, there may be expectations to work instead of going to university, regardless of talent. So, in reality little has changed.

The panic report states that the cultural and creative sector “significantly excludes” those from working class backgrounds, which is in addition to barriers faced by women and people who identify as disabled or Black and minority ethnic (BME). So, if just 18.2% of the music, performing and visual arts workforce is working class are we really doing such a good job with our outreach work, community engagement and opportunities in the sector ?

I still think about this one parent who I met a few years ago. She arrived with her son to take part in a music project that i was delivering.  After filling the form in and paying her money, she picked up some of our publicity which talked about our work in “hard to reach communities”.

She glanced across to her son and pointed to the piece of paper and whispered,

“Are we hard to reach?” she asked her son.

“Yeah, I think it means poor ” he replied.

Yes, it is true that your financial or class background are not a protected characteristic in terms of arts council funding but it is something that we need to find a much better way to support and be honest about. It may be complex to consider the working class and the working class poor but it is time that we acknowledge that we need to change.