4BR Talking Point - A National Body?


Peter Denton puts forward his personal views on the need for a representative national brass band body and how it can be achieved.

There have been many attempts to get a national body for brass bands over the last 20 years or so. 

We’ve had a National Contesting Council, a National Brass Band Centre, and we’ve still got the British Federation of Brass Bands, the Association of Brass Band Adjudicators and the National Association of Brass Band Conductors. 


There’s currently talk of setting up a Brass Band Council with all the major contests as stakeholders.  I recall that there was also an idea that was explored at an event at the RNCM in the 1990s which looked at setting up another national body led by the ‘big name’ bands.

It’s interesting how the BFBB and the specific interest bodies (e.g. ABBA, NABBC, etc.) are the ones that have survived. 

4BR recently posed some interesting questions for the BFBB at their AGM and the follow-up article suggests they gave a reasonable account of themselves even if there were some things that didn’t look as successful as others.

bfbbStrategic Plan

According to the BFBB’s Strategic Plan for 2009-2013 www.bfbb.co.uk/StrategicPlan.htm they have 4 main aims:

1.    Enthusiasm for participation – getting more people involved with bands as players and increasing audience sizes

2.    Supporting brass bands – helping bands to have access to the information they need to survive and flourish

3.    Enabling brass bands – lobbying policy makers and funders on behalf brass bands

4.    Building the BFBB’s capacity and making BFBB a relevant, active and sustainable organisation that promotes brass banding as a valued art form

Core activities

It’s interesting that the things that I suspect most readers have in mind as BFBB core activities (running the Registry and various contests) don’t figure anywhere in these. 

Is this a gap between rhetoric and reality or between reality and perception?

How will it achieve this?

So how does the BFBB intend to achieve its aims? 

Here’s what they say they’ll do:

·    provide information and advice through various print and digital means

·    run awareness raising activities e.g. seminars, conferences,  and advocacy work

·    monitor and raise awareness of political and regulatory developments

·    develop training and learning opportunities

·    support or provide opportunities for networking, joint activities and partnerships

Personal experience

People with long memories may be aware that I worked as Development Officer for the National Brass Band Centre (a joint initiative between the BFBB and the Brass Band Heritage Trust) for 18 months some 10 years ago.  

I’ve been an active bandsman since the late 1980s – playing with BTM, Point of Ayr and Pennine Brass (amongst others) and conducting roles at Blaenavon Town, Tintwistle and Sellers International Youth Bands.  I have also worked in the ‘not for profit’ sector for over half of the last 20 years.  

I currently work as a Project Manager for a local 3rd sector infrastructure organisation – it’s our job to provide advice and support to voluntary organisations.

I’ve been doing some thinking about what advice we’d give to the BFBB if they were one of our client organisations. 

The questions to be asked

These are some of the questions we would be suggesting that they think about to help them to develop with changing times:

1.       It’s recognised by psychologists that perception is often more important than reality.  What people think an organisation does is just as important as what it actually does. 

How do the BFBB and its members think it can get better at making sure that the band movement and the UK population at large really understand the full range of things it does with its limited budget?

2.       The BFBB has a perceived history which is very much focused around the contesting scene.  In many ways this has evolved from need.  The BFBB’s current published objectives don’t revolve around contests even though that seems to be what many people in brass banding think they do. 

If there wasn’t widespread engagement with the brass band community when the strategic plan was written, how can the BFBB work with its members and the wider brass band world to check whether the activities it is delivering and planning are still the best ones to meet its charitable aims in 2010?

3.       In the early stages of an umbrella organisation’s history, membership tends to increase because people like the concept of the organisation. 

Later in an organisation’s life, membership tends to build on a combination of track record (see question 1 above) and services offered. 

Do they think there is any merit in asking bands who are not BFBB members what services it could offer which would make them seriously consider joining? How do they think can this be done?

4.       Does the BFBB have the capacity to deliver all the services its members (and the wider banding world) expect?  If not, how do BFBB members and stakeholders think they can help the BFBB to increase its capacity? 

How can members and stakeholders get actively involved – how can BFBB members and the BFBB officers work collaboratively?

Banding input

Tied in with these are some things I think bands should be doing, as BFBB members (and potential members):

1.       Thinking about our national umbrella body not as an organisation that does things for us but one which helps us to co-ordinate what we do to promote and develop brass bands.

2.       Thinking about what we want to achieve before we decide what we’re going to do – vision should come before action.  Recognise that the BFBB’s strategic plan can and does provide a structure for this.

3.       When we have agreed some specific outcomes, asking ourselves ‘what can I/we do to help to make this happen?’ then do it (in collaboration with the umbrella body)!

Take responsibility

Basically I’m saying to every band in Britain: Whether or not you like what the BFBB has done in the past, the best way to make sure it’s fit for your band’s future is to take some responsibility and play an active role in making future actions successful. 

This means that bands need to do more than just send people to meetings if they truly want to benefit.

Personally speaking, I think it is vital that we have a strong umbrella body for brass bands.  Now is a good time to strengthen what we have – it’s likely that Government arts policy will change after the General Election and the BBC mini series on Dinnington band has raised our public profile.

Need to change

I’d really love the BFBB to evolve and succeed but if we keep on doing what we’ve always done then we’ll keep getting what we’ve got in the past. 

If we want the BFBB to change we need to change with it.

Speaking personally, I’d be happy to help the Federation to drive forward with its published objectives but as an individual who longer has a regular association with a band it appears my only option would be as an Individual Member of the BFBB – someone who has no voting or nomination rights.

Any thoughts?


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