After having been part of the first cohort of new Local Cultural Education Partnerships (LCEPs) in Yorkshire, the Doncaster LCEP has been reflecting on their impact thus far, their interaction with the One Doncaster report, and what the next steps may be to maintain and build upon this success.
Doncaster’s LCEP was established in 2015 amid a landscape of cultural change within the local council and the move towards the new Children’s Trust. This case study highlights some of the challenges the group faced, the ways in which the team sought to address these and the key areas of impact that the partnership has had thus far. The partnership is now moving into the next phase of their existence, re-examining their purpose and looking to consolidate and develop the work they have done thus far.
Doncaster was one of the first cohort of areas in Yorkshire to be invited to develop a Local Cultural Education Partnership in 2015 in response to the Cultural Education Challenge. IVE Associate Rachel Newman was drafted in to support the development of the partnership along with many organisations in Doncaster working to support children and young people in their engagement with arts and culture. The initial call to action generated a meeting attendance of around 30-40 people around the table, highlighting that there was a definite interest in the establishment of the CEP in Doncaster. Any initiative aimed at bringing people together will always have challenges and different agendas to negotiate, however, Doncaster is an excellent example of the successful negotiation of these challenges and the power of an LCEP to influence and support policy-making in a locality. This is very much what this case study will examine through addressing the initial challenges, solutions put in place by the partnership, the results that they have seen thus far, and where is next on their journey together.
Yet Another Network
Both the arts and cultural sector and education sectors have seen our fair share of initiatives and networks over the years and any new programme aiming to bring people together in this way will always need to justify its existence and attempt to break this ‘network fatigue’. New initiatives built around notions of partnership working must also negotiate any issues or breakdowns in relationships that may have occurred in the past. In discussing the initial development and approach to the DCEP, Rachel Newman, IVE Associate, stated that she was even warned that certain organisations or individuals may be difficult to get into the same room as one another.
Creating opportunity from struggle
The inception of the LCEP also came at a pivotal time for the local council and their services for children and young people. In 2014, after a government-ordered inquiry into children’s services, a new trust was formed to take over this department and run it on an independent basis. The Doncaster Children’s Trust now runs all children’s social work and care operations while the local council retains responsibility for schools and education. Although this change led to a period of upheaval for those involved with children and young people’s services, the new members of staff leading this new organisation expressed that culture and creativity should be an integral part of the shift in the dialogue around such services. The creation of the trust just a year before the development of the LCEP meant that those individuals coming into post within the new organisation were in a position where they could be involved with the LCEP and be heard on a wider advocacy level. This ‘alignment of the stars’ helped to create positive change from an initially extremely problematic set of circumstances.
Relationships and Trust
One of the most important ways in which Rachel was able to combat some of the initial preconceptions and trepidations around the LCEP was to consciously spend a great deal of time in the beginning of the process in relationship building, trust building and openness around the agendas that individuals and organisations may be bringing to the table. A decision was made at the outset not to give leadership to any one representative around the table but to keep the conversation as open and democratic as possible. Meetings were held monthly in these initial stages to encourage the group to get to know one another better and become more accustomed to working together and sharing the same space. This approach proved successful and the level of collaborative working amongst the group now demonstrates that the time invested in relationship building was vital to the success of the LCEP.
The Children’s Trust
The previously mentioned changes within Children’s Services in Doncaster also provided an interesting and useful catalyst for the work of the LCEP in both the support of the general goal of advocating for the importance of arts and culture, and to help guide the setting of objectives and goals in the initial stages. As Rachel Newman has suggested, ‘it felt like all the right people at the top were saying how important they thought culture was’. The LCEP had the ear of the new Children’s Trust because of these shared values and was therefore able to closely align their priorities with wider concerns being raised by the trust. An example of this was a meeting where the Director of the trust came to talk to the group about Looked After Children in the borough and the importance of health and wellbeing. This helped to bring the needs of this group to the awareness of the LCEP members and further enrich the conversation with diverse themes and perspectives.
As with the set-up of any new group or team, much of the success lies in the mix of people, their personalities and what they bring to the table. The overwhelming characteristic that has been used to describe those involved in the Doncaster LCEP has been ‘positivity’. The personnel in the partnership has shifted slightly over the years, as is to be expected with changes in jobs etc., but those who have come in to fill those roles have been collaborative and focused on working together towards shared aims. The personalities of those round the table has also been suggested as a more important facet to the ‘mix’ than the job role or level of seniority represented. There are cases where representatives may be Senior or Middle leaders but in the case of all organisations and representatives, the vital criteria are the ability to take decisions and to value the partnership and its collaborative heart. In council and large organisational terms, the relationship that key individuals round the table have with those above them is vital to ensure that any buy-in is authentic and genuine when it is reported back to the group. This helps to support the notion of trust that is so important to a successful LCEP. More broadly, an LGA Culture Peer Challenge commissioned in May 2018 commented on the equity and maturity of the cultural partnerships in Doncaster, and the Doncaster LCEP has benefited from this enhanced strategic approach to relationships across cultural practitioners and providers in the borough.
Going the Extra Mile
In getting the right people to sit round the table, or even just to drop in and contribute on a one-off, it is proactivity that is highlighted as the most important factor. During the development of the One Doncaster report, Rachel Newman and other members of the LCEP noted with interest the high-level team that were being recruited to do the work around this. One member of the team was Dr. Keri Facer from the University of Bristol and Rachel reached out to her and invited her to attend an LCEP meeting. Dr. Facer was a member of the Bristol LCEP which had been one of the first cohort of pilot groups and, therefore, had a deep understanding of the ideas behind LCEPs and how they work. Rachel also communicated directly with the Vice-Chair of the commission Professor Sir Tim Brighouse whose background in education and history of advocating for arts and culture made him also a great person to have in support of the LCEP. It may well be the case that these individuals would have sought out the LCEP and made those connections but the only sure-fire way to make sure that this happened and that the LCEP was able to have a stake in this report was to take a proactive approach, do the research, find out who the people are and what their backgrounds are and make those approaches.
Being part of the conversation
As mentioned above, members of the commission who worked on the One Doncaster report were engaged with the LCEP during their process, which contributed to the inclusion of an impressive range of arts and cultural influences within the report. This is particularly evidenced within the Sixth recommendation made in the report to ‘Foster a commitment to creativity and inclusivity’. This recommendation has elements regarding a commitment to STEAM, developing digital arts through a maker space, supporting women and girls through creative empowerment and advocating for take up of Arts Award. It has been stated that the take-up of Arts Award was particularly influenced by the focus on leadership, the presence of UCAS points and the power of the qualification in raising aspirations of those who may be disengaged or fine traditional qualifications too challenging.
Bringing More Partners on Board
As a result of the engagement with the One Doncaster report, the profile of the LCEP and the work that it was working towards was raised and they were able to involve an educational partner that they had been trying to pin down for a while. This partner was a large Multi Academy Trust covering one secondary school and a body of primaries. The inclusion and influence of the report helped to prove the embedded nature of culture in the strategy of the town moving forward and provide a sense of greater legitimacy for the LCEP, giving them more ‘clout’ to bring such partners on board.
Chamber of Commerce
During the time of the publishing of the One Doncaster Report, the Head of the local Chamber of Commerce, Dan Fell, also became engaged with the LCEP and gave an important speech around the importance of Creativity for business. The Chamber of Commerce have advocated on behalf of creativity and culture using the terminology of ‘Innovation and Entrepreneurship’ and has engaged with the LCEP through their Skill Academy which leads on creating and supporting access to industry through work experience and careers events. This is a further example of the LCEP engaging with a wide range of interested parties in Doncaster who hold are able to advocate for the power of arts and culture at a high level and to an audience that may not usually be involved in the discourse.
A further success for the LCEP in engaging with partners who may not usually be involved in the conversation around arts and culture was the opportunity that they had to be involved in a conversation on town planning. This meeting was conducted using the lens of creativity and culture and involved a huge range of different partners represented in the town centre including cultural stock, local transport providers and the greyhound track. This opportunity enabled discussions to take place that may not ordinarily see the light of day, including, amongst others, issues around transport to and from cultural venues. This meeting was a rare opportunity to have those conversations with the right people, those actually involved in the delivery of those services and who can make genuine impact and change.
One of the biggest challenges for any LCEP in this stage of their process, three and a half years down the line is to re-assess their goals, look at their successes and decide how to move forward from that position. Particularly in the position that Doncaster is, having had great success in working with partners and being involved in the One Doncaster commission and report, the group needs to consider how to maintain the momentum of these successes and also work towards future developments. Nick Stopforth, Head of Libraries and Culture at Doncaster Council suggests that they must take advantage of the ‘sweet spot’ in which they are now sitting where those in leadership positions across the borough understand and can help in advocating for the importance of arts and culture to children and young people. The integration of the LCEP as a Project Group within the borough’s Arts and Culture Programme Board, itself reporting into the local strategic partnership Doncaster Growing Together, means that the Doncaster LCEP is well placed to benefit from local leadership, as well as influencing on policy and service provisions.
Doncaster has been identified as one of the twelve ‘Opportunity Areas’ for educational development in England. The delivery plan for the opportunity area has been launched and contains potential areas to support the continued development of the LCEP including additional investment to supplement the infrastructure of the LCEP through the provision of a job role. The challenge presented by the Opportunity Area is to keep arts and culture at the top of people’s minds while a range of other important issues are being debated and considered. Within the Opportunity Area delivery plan is also a commitment to enabling young people to be involved in the plan through becoming ‘Ambassadors’ for certain issues, promoting the town and designing elements of the careers-focused plan. The facilitating of young people’s voice is something that the LCEP very much feels it can contribute to and enable.
With thanks to Nick Stopforth, Rachel Newman and Sarah Clough for their invaluable input.
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