Our Regional Producer for the North, Becky West, reflects on her first year working for Orchestras Live and the strategy behind our work in the North of England.
In my first year as Regional Producer – North, I’ve met committed colleagues in the region’s cultural sector and had many conversations about the common challenges and what we love about working in our region. I knew my own area well (the north east) but the north is big, 37,331 km2 in fact, so there’s been plenty to learn about other places!
Many people (and often government) think of the north as a homogeneous region that is centered around the large cities along the M62. In fact, there is significant diversity within the region and the M62 corridor represents the ‘south north’. You can broadly characterise the Northern region of England as consisting of large rural counties, the urban industrial belt of the ‘south north’ and the north east which is more of a mix of the two. Devolution has been a welcome change, 69% of the region is now covered by a combined authority with 5 metro mayors, but the IPPR North recently said that “the North will need more clout, more funding and more fiscal autonomy to reach its full potential”. How the government proposes to meet this challenge is of direct interest to us all.
North Music NPOs and orchestras
The majority of music NPOs are based in the ‘south north’ and when you consider the size of the region and lack of investment in its transport infrastructure, particularly east/west links, the geographical challenges of delivering more orchestral work in more places, ensuring more young people hear an orchestra live and reducing barriers to access such as transport costs are apparent. We’re continually looking to extend orchestras’ reach through new partnerships in under-served counties like North Yorkshire and through the use of technology. The recent live stream of OAE’s The Apple Tree with NYMAZ’s Connect: Resound programme reached children and families across the country.
- Orange pins (chamber orchestra)
- Red pins (symphony orchestra)
- Yellow pins (small/flexible ensemble)
- Green pins (festival)
- Blue pins (other music organisation, e.g. venue, different genre)
- Purple pins (music organisation with national remit)
The North-South Divide
Socio-economic issues are another of the big challenges in the north. The north-south divide is well documented (have a read of the IPPR’s State of the North reports for plenty of in depth analysis) but the following figures give some context:
- Austerity has hit the north harder, the 5 places with the biggest falls in council spending since 2010 are northern cities with cuts between 27-40%. The national average is 13%. Source: The Guardian.
- Culturally, ACE North illustrates the divide: it covers 49 areas compared to the next highest office in the South East with 25.
- Centre for Cities predicts automation and globalization will have a more pronounced effect outside the south with 18% of jobs under threat in southern cities, compared to 23% elsewhere in the UK.
- Lack of sustained investment in north transport infrastructure combined with the geography of the region creates barriers to economic and cultural development.
|IPPR Northern Powerhouse Data||North||South East & South West||London|
|Public spending between 2009/10 and 2017/18||- £3.6 billion||+ £4.7 billion||- £256 million|
|Public Sector employment reductions since 2014||- 2.8%||SW - 1.6% / SE - 1.7%||- 1.2%|
|Transport spending per capita over 10 years||£289pp||-||£708pp|
|Spending rises 2014+||£146pp||-||£326pp|
There are imbalances within the regional economy too. ACE’s Economic Value of the Arts and Culture in the North of England demonstrates an east – west divide within the region. With a £2.7 billion turnover, culture is a significant part of the region’s economy and using culture to support regeneration has been a recurring theme in the north over many years. However, the scale and speed of public funding cuts in the region under austerity presents an ongoing challenge, particularly for those working outside of the cities.
One of the unintended consequences of the north-south divide and the perceived southern bias of the media is Northerners’ strong sense of place and local identity rooted in local history and some stunning landscapes (the region is home to five national parks). Civic pride is very evident across the region and culture plays an important role in driving local place making agendas. I’ve heard much about the ongoing work on local cultural strategies that recognises the value of culture to both the local economy and place making.
Working with and being responsive to our local partners and local need is vital to building successful long-term partnerships. Classically Yours in the East Riding of Yorkshire has developed a wide range of work over the last four years, all of which has participation by the community at its heart and it is this participation that has proved key to engaging and developing new audiences.
My conversations with new partners often centre on how they want to use culture to engage with and build connections across their community and how orchestras can play an important role in bringing diverse groups together to create and make music. From projects where young people create and perform new pieces as part of orchestral concerts in Darlington to large scale multi-genre projects inspired by our places and landscape like Encountering Wordsworth, there is plenty of creativity, inspiration and commitment to developing orchestral work that is relevant to our region and that creatively engages communities across the north.