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Orchestra Live’s Chief Exec on their crucial partnerships with local authorities

11th September 2015

Orchestras Live is passionate that people from all backgrounds should have the opportunity to participate in and enjoy the highest quality orchestral provision, regardless of their age or geographical location. Our partnershipswith local authorities and music education hubs ensure that the widest possible audiences, particularly those who are geographically and socially isolated, can be inspired by the excellence of professional British orchestras.

Throughout our 50 years (which we celebrate this year), partnerships with local authorities have been fundamental to our success in reaching so many communities (of our current 40 investing partners, half of them have worked with us for at least 20 years), and over a long period of time, we have established a high degree of trust with our local partners. Our approach is always a bespoke one, where we take time to understand their priorities before we deliver according to local circumstances so that our input is meaningful and has an impact on the local communities.

There’s often a limit to what an individual partner can achieve on its own. We actively seek opportunities to develop strategic county-wide or regional relationships, creating investment consortia of local partners that maintain the commitment of our local authority partners and enable them to work together on a large-scale programme that they couldn’t deliver on their own.

Two well established examples of this approach are our work in Norfolk and Suffolk. In Norfolk, we have worked regularly with all seven local authorities in the county to develop Music Mix, a series of concerts by the BBC Concert Orchestra. It offers thousands of Key Stage 3 school children across the county the inspirational chance to hear a live orchestra for the first time. And in Suffolk, a network of six local authority partners brings our now well-established series of Lullaby concerts by City of London Sinfonia to hundreds of very young children and their families in rural areas.

Our partnership since 2010 with North Norfolk District Council has, over the past five years, been based on a shared strategy that enables local voluntary festivals to promote excellent concert programmes by British chamber orchestras, frequently featuring contemporary work.

Earlier this year, our long-standing partnership with Essex County Council enabled us to design a project that would contribute to its health and wellbeing agenda. Essex Folk, a creative songwriting project in partnership with Sinfonia Viva and four residential care homes in north Essex, culminated in a celebration concert at Colchester Arts Centre in which the participants (some of whom live with dementia) performed their new songs with the orchestra.

We regularly review each of our local authority partnerships and prioritise those for which we are confident there is the necessary degree of investment, ambition and championship to make our work succeed. We rely on a strong degree of local championship to make our programmes work on the ground. As pressure on local authorities to make savings increases, the local authority arts officer role has become increasingly scarce, so we seek to identify departments, often tourism and economic regeneration, which can work with us to promote our work locally. Some of our partners have set up independent charitable trusts to deliver their local cultural provision, while others have made alliances across two or more authorities to work on a single cultural strategy.

The future is challenging but we take heart from the fact that so many local authorities continue to prioritise their relationship with us and continue to make the case internally for investment in our work. Inevitably, there’s a degree of turnover in our local authority partnerships, as some no longer have the resources to continue collaboration with us. A crucial part of maintaining so many local authority partnerships is our ongoing relationships with several major trusts and foundations. By providing a 100% plus return on investment, we have been able to maintain a high number of local authority partners throughout challenging economic circumstances.

Henry Little is Chief Executive of Orchestras Live.

Read more on the Arts Professional website