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A new dawn in Wales
Could Welsh banding be looking at a much sunnier future?

Does the establishment of a new national representative body for Welsh banding offer more than just another false dawn of optimism?


A sunny future beckons for Welsh banding?

There has been many a false dawn risen on the horizon of Welsh banding over the years. 

An enviable record of competitive success hasn’t ever disguised the fact that it has been achieved against a backdrop of severe cuts in its lifeblood peripatetic music services, increased social deprivation and numerous lack lustre promises of better times ahead from politicians.

Welsh banding has succeeded by individual excellence rather than through any well thought out collective design. 

In a post Coronavirus landscape it can no longer afford to ride its luck any longer. 


Welsh banding has enjoyed enviable National success...  

The announcement of the formation of a national brass band body for Wales with a collective, inclusive ethos therefore couldn’t have come soon enough.

Bandiau Pres Cymru/Brass Bands Wales may offer the last real chance to halt the nation’s 25 year plus slide into decline before it takes on a terminal prognosis.

The challenges though are stern - and not just seen in the stark statistic provided at the latest open forum meeting by the fact that 88 different bands had competed at the Welsh Regional Championships since 1995 - 34 of which were no longer in competitive existence. 

Grey drizzle

For such a small country, Wales excels at producing tiers of labyrinthine bureaucracy that can soon engulf any rays of lasting sunshine in a grey drizzle of officialdom.  

The political make up of the nation is a case in point; 22 unitary authorities, over 730 community and town councils, 7 Health Boards and 2 NHS Trusts, 4 Police Forces, 3 Fire & Rescue bodies and enough quangos and public bodies from tourism and sport to the Welsh language and the arts to sink a battleship.  

For such a small country, Wales excels at producing tiers of labyrinthine bureaucracy that can soon engulf any rays of lasting sunshine in a grey drizzle of officialdom.  

Wales loves a committee – all the way up to the Welsh Government in Cardiff Bay.  


There is enough bureaucracy in Welsh government to sink a battleship...

The old joke still rings true. What happens when you put three Welshmen in a sealed room with one door out, but only 5 minutes of air supply?  

All three die as they spend 4 minutes deciding on who should be on the escape committee and 1 minute on passing a resolution on who should go first… 

Running out of air

No wonder Welsh banding has found it difficult to get its voice heard over the years, especially as it’s been in a room of its own making with the air supply running out for some time now.  

It has 3 local brass band associations in the south, west and north, a Welsh regional committee, and a body representing banding at the National Eisteddfod all discussing their own various escape routes to post-Covid safety.

It has 3 local brass band associations in the south, west and north, a Welsh regional committee, and a body representing banding at the National Eisteddfod all discussing their own various escape routes to post-Covid safety.

All this and the National Youth Brass Band is administered by National Youth Arts Wales, whilst the administration of arts and music related grants comes through the Ty Cerdd funding body.

That’s all before you take a closer look at representation on other bodies in the education and arts sectors: And that’s a hell of a lot of bureaucratic mist to burn through for the sun to start shining down on long term brass banding sustainability.     


Standing proud - representatives at the first open forum meeting in Cardiff

Really good news

The good news – no, make that really good news – is that initial enthusiasm and good intentions surrounding the starting point of Bandiau Pres Cymru/Brass Bands Wales has been backed by concrete progress.

The first meeting held in Cardiff in September set the tone and established a small working group of nine individuals to look at the essential elements needed to be addressed.

Those first steps eschewed pointless debate and concentrated on putting foundation stones in place - the results of which were then presented to a second open forum zoom meeting which took place on the 24th October. 

Core aims and objectives

Around 60 people took the opportunity to link up to listen to presentations made on the five core aims and objectives of the organisation: Advocacy & Engagement; Membership Development; Youth Development; Artistic Development and Funding & Governance.
 
Graham Howe, Chairman of Burry Port Band and the Welsh representative on the European Brass Band Association led the presentation on Advocacy & Engagement. This highlighted the need for the body to speak with ‘one voice’ for the banding movement - locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. 

This was to develop a long term vision across Wales; retain and monitor good working relationships and look together to explore new opportunities for brass bands – from increasing diversity and inclusion to developing new audiences, better communication channels and marketing presence.   

This was to develop a long term vision across Wales; retain and monitor good working relationships and look together to explore new opportunities for brass bands – from increasing diversity and inclusion to developing new audiences, better communication channels and marketing presence.   

Alexandria James, who has extensive administrative experience in the arts sector, took the lead on a robust Membership Development strategy.

This encompassed engagement with new as well as existing organisations at all levels, offering greater benefits through communal guidance, support and representation.


First priorities: Investment in Welsh youth

Youth Development

Youth Development aims were led by Chris Turner, the well known conductor and educator. 

This highlighted the need to establish strong links with partner bodies in education (especially over legal requirements), regional and national strategies to develop a nationwide network of youth bands, partnership working on training needs to help develop new and sustain existing bands, and the development of a National Children’s Band.

Aims included the ability to promote and lobby for performance opportunities, promote commissioning strategies with partner organisations, link with the education sector and engage with composers of international standing to consider writing for the brass band medium.

Composer Christopher Bond was tasked with explaining the promotion of an artistic development strategy.

He outlined the need to promote the work of both Welsh composers and those working in Wales and to create an online database to help bands link with them and their work.  

Aims included the ability to promote and lobby for performance opportunities, promote commissioning strategies with partner organisations, link with the education sector and engage with composers of international standing to consider writing for the brass band medium.

Governance

Finally, the importance of correct and sustainable funding and governance was presented by Craig Roberts, who has extensive experience working in the arts sector.

This covered the need for essential ongoing guidance and support to all member bands on aspects of good governance, robust administrative structures, registration issues and legal requirements.


Welsh champion Tredegar was one of a dozen bands to gain Culture Recovery Fund help

10x10x10

Highlighting the recent success of a dozen Welsh bands in gaining Arts Council of Wales Cultural Recovery Funding awards, he also pointed to the need for such advice on applying to appropriate funding streams to be made available through a central source of information.  

Presentations were also made by Sion Rhys Jones, Gareth Ritter and Chris Williams - on a ‘10x10’10’ vision of what the organisation could realistically hope to achieve in the 10 weeks, 10 months and 10 years following its formation.

This included the establishment of a functioning website and social media presence, to representation on differing bodies and organisations, and the hosting of an annual youth band festival with representation from every one of the 22 unitary authorities in the nation.

Christopher Bond, Graham Howe, Alexandria James, Andrew Jones, Sion Rhys Jones, Heather Powell, Gareth Ritter, Craig Roberts, Christopher Turner and Chris Williams will now meet to get the body up and running as soon as possible.

Following a robust question and answer session targeted on each strategic area and on the specifics of the formal structure of Bandiau Pres Cymru/Brass Bands Wales as charitable organisation which would seek to become a charitable incorporated organisation in due course,  10 individuals were elected to take the body forward to its next formal stage.

Christopher Bond, Graham Howe, Alexandria James, Andrew Jones, Sion Rhys Jones, Heather Powell, Gareth Ritter, Craig Roberts, Christopher Turner and Chris Williams will now meet to get the body up and running as soon as possible.

Watershed moment

Following the meeting and as reported on 4BR, Andrew Jones said he hoped this would be a watershed moment for Welsh banding, especially at a time when the movement is facing the most severe of challenges.

With that in mind, and for those with the future sustainability and success of the Welsh brass banding movement close to their hearts, it appears that a new dawn of realism, determination and endeavour may have finally arrived.

Bandiau Pres Cymru/Brass Bands Wales will now work with the existing banding structures and organisations within Wales, as well as forge links with the arts and education sectors to provide a foundation on which long term sustainability and growth can be based. 

It will also look to make progressive links with other national bodies as and when appropriate. Wales has a great deal to be proud about and to share with the world outside its banding borders.  

With that in mind, and for those with the future sustainability and success of the Welsh brass banding movement close to their hearts, it appears that a new dawn of realism, determination and endeavour may have finally arrived.

Iwan Fox

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