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From closure to creation – Gareth Churcher, Cornwall Music Service Trust

11th September 2015

Since Cornwall Council closed its schools music service, an independent service has emerged that is no longer at the mercy of politicians, writes Gareth Churcher.

In September 2014 Cornwall Council announced the closure of Music Cornwall (the local government maintained music service) due to local authority budget cuts imposed by Parliament. It was the news that we as peripatetic music teachers throughout the county had dreaded as we faced the prospect of either going it alone or finding an entirely new job.

But then, having been unshackled from local government, maybe these cuts were a good thing. Was it an opportunity for a brand new music service to emerge that was no longer at the mercy of legislative or parliamentary changes? By seizing this mindset, just three months after the closure, my team and I had already formed a new trust, reaching out to over 10,000 young musicians and securing the jobs of 77 of the county’s top music professionals. Another five months on and our newly formed service, the Cornwall Music Service Trust (CMST), has formed partnerships with over 81% of Cornwall’s schools, successfully forging a business model that could be followed elsewhere in the country.

So how did we do it? It all started as soon as the closure was announced when I met up with Truro School’s Headmaster, Andrew Gordon-Brown, to discuss how the school could help. Working in tandem with the senior management team, we put together a business model with the aim of creating a new service that would keep music at the heart of schools. After numerous meetings we finally built a framework designed to form a rich network of schools and a unified body of music teachers to fairly distribute funds at grassroots level while keeping lessons affordable to parents.

I believe that one of the key elements to our successful business model is the requirement of an exclusivity clause for all staff. This means that all members of the trust work together, ensuring that there is no undercutting in the market through independent tuition. Exclusivity guarantees 100% commitment, builds confidence in the trust and, most importantly, raises everyone’s job security through a more stable form of income. In fact, many schools that we now provide for have explicitly said that they would not risk using external independent teachers due to the liabilities that may arise around safeguarding, contracts and insurance.

Initial fundraising was also an important factor in kick-starting the new trust. In our first month we ran a community-based crowdfunding project to raise start-up funds and successfully acquired £14,000. This momentum was sustained in February when we held our inaugural event, ‘Thank you for the music’, featuring over 200 young musicians from all over Cornwall. This was a resounding success, particularly in raising public awareness of the new trust with hundreds flooding into Truro Cathedral helping to raise over £3,000.

Operating on school premises has given us further public recognition. Being affiliated with Truro School, a well-established education entity, gives the wider community a sense of confidence. The senior team at the school has welcomed us and acted as a sounding board throughout the set-up process, which has generated a sense of acceptance across the county.

Finally, a core ethos of front-end music provision has had a big part to play in realising the trust’s first year objectives. We have an efficient management structure that costs the charity less than 4% of its budget, while ensuring that 96% of our funds are committed to music lessons.

After firmly establishing ourselves we are now looking ahead and planning for the long term. We hope to continue developing our outreach in Cornwall and offer more diverse services including early years music provision and a family learning strategy. We also intend to seek funding for inclusion projects. Our ultimate goal is to continue the delivery of a wide range of musical opportunities and to sustain the provision of structured learning through participation and planning, thereby offering every student the benefit and satisfaction of individual and personal achievement.

Gareth Churcher is a founding member and Head of Service of the Cornwall Music Service Trust.

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