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The price of stability
2022 Brass Bands England Conference

Will the progress made by Brass Bands England over the past year lead to the future funding its deserves when the next Arts Council England decision is made?


A price worth paying for...

What we now need is stability.  

You may have heard those words uttered a few thousand times in recent days, yet it’s not only nervous Tory politicians who will be crossing their fingers in the hope it is achieved in the months, let alone years ahead.

With a new Prime Minister already talking of having to make “difficult decisions”  as the country faces “a profound economic crisis”,  all areas of Government expenditure will also come under scrutiny.  

Little wonder then arts and cultural organisations are bracing themselves for what is expected to be a hefty swing of his Chancellor’s financial axe.

Better informed

The decisions on what Arts Council England funding a huge swath of organisations were due to receive from April 2023 have already been delayed (it was due out this week). 

It can only be hoped that Michelle Donelan, the current Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport will be better informed to argue the case for a properly resourced sector than her tin-eared predecessor, Nadine Dorries.

It can only be hoped that Michelle Donelan, the current Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport will be better informed to argue the case for a properly resourced sector than her tin-eared predecessor, Nadine Dorries.

The MP for Chippenham is the seventh politician to hold the role since January 2018.  Given that she currently holds the record of being the shortest ever serving cabinet minister in history (36 hours), stability there needs to last longer than a Whit Friday march if arts bodies big and small, national or local, are to plan with any future confidence. 

Much then to consider in a wider context at the Brass Bands England Conference in Sale on the weekend.


BBE results in 2021/22

Waiting decision

BBE is one of those waiting on a decision on the next round of Arts Council England (ACE) funding (April 2023 –2026). 

It will hope that the results of its increased membership (now standing at 470 organisations with 100 individuals), use of successful grant applications, online and in-person events and outreach initiatives will have persuaded ACE to increase its core grant payment of £210,000 per year up to the £400,000 mark reportedly applied for.

Given the current financial outlook in Government spending, anything approaching that figure would be seen as a huge, and deserved success. 

Given the current financial outlook in Government spending, anything approaching that figure would be seen as a huge, and deserved success. 

Confidence and ambition

BBE now employs 18 staff, led by CEO Kenny Crookston, with the senior management team of Chairperson Mike Kilroy and trustees having been in their roles for some time.  Additional commercial/third sector experience has also been brought in. 

That stability has given BBE confidence and ambition - shown in successfully taking on the imposing challenge of the 2022 European Brass Band Festival in Birmingham. 


In numbers...

Extensive commitments

In addition, it has continued to provide extensive commitments to Safeguarding and Bandsafe, Child Performance Licensing, Brass Foundations projects and the National Youth Championships amongst others – from Proms in the Playground to Bold as Brass. 

Almost 12,000 people accessed on-line information and BBE issued over 100 press releases. 15,500 people now link up through social media channels.

In 2021/22 it has provided 74 online events, and 7 in-person events (less due to Covid) and has reached close on 2,000 attendees. Nearly 400 people were trained on courses and 361 performances given using the safety of a Child Performance BOPA licence.  

Almost 12,000 people accessed on-line information and BBE issued over 100 press releases. 15,500 people now link up through social media channels.  Music Hubs and commercial partnerships have been set up and the work of the Brass Band Archive seeks to secure a home for banding heritage. 


A voice worth listening to: Ian Bousfield

Informative presentations

Further examples were seen in action throughout the conference day, with informative presentations, led by keynote speaker Ian Bousfield, exploring the topic, ‘Banding for Life’.

His was a thought provoking take on the subject; enquiring into the purpose and questioning the importance of ‘giving back’ to the movement in a bid to help reconnect it back to a “musical mainstream”  from which he felt we had been cast adrift over the last 30 years or more.   

There was a deep-felt passion about his opinions and his aim to “convince” local communities as well as potential national audiences that we provided something of progressive musical and social value.

He spoke from personal experience and of expertise, touching on the need to rid ourselves of insularity and a dated adherence to perceived excellence – from teaching to contest repertoire. 

There was a deep-felt passion about his opinions and his aim to “convince”  local communities as well as potential national audiences that we provided something of progressive musical and social value.

His is a voice well worth hearing and acting upon time and time again. 

Broader issues

Elsewhere, delegates could find out more about the new, redesigned ABRSM Brass Syllabus for youngsters, the importance of Unibrass and the inspirational benefits of daytime brass banding.  

Broader issues such as climate change, audience diversification, perceptions about our music and our heritage, and Bollywood brass provided engaging detours, as did the panel discussion on the challenges of ‘Banding for Life?’


A new syllabus from ABRSM

Proactive people

Recorded for future broadcast by BrassPass.tv, it was good to hear and even better to find that there were proactive people with a vision for a banding life (as shown by the presentation of the BBE annual awards) that encompasses more than the regular debating topics of ‘contesting minutiae’  as Edward Gregson memorably called it.

 it was good to hear and even better to find that there were proactive people with a vision for a banding life that encompasses more than the regular debating topics of ‘contesting minutiae’ as Edward Gregson memorably called it.

Critically important

However, as BBE’s Strategic Report emphasised, despite the accolades and successes, its future, and its ability to meet its aim to, “...provide an independent and impartial voice that represents, supports and encourages brass bands at every level to become more robust and sustainable and recognised as a critically important part of this country’s cultural scene”,  is inextricably tied to what ACE decides what it can afford, and not perhaps what BBE deserves.


Plenty of interest in person and on-line

Caution

That then goes to explain why the annual accounts show that a cautious reserves policy sees  money in the bank (£188,000). 

And whilst the headline turn-over figure for the period 2021/2022 of £613,000 may seem large, the reality was that it was made up of different strands of ongoing and restricted one-off funding streams (including three Culture Recovery funding payments). The European Festival, run by a separate BBE company, will be accounted for in the period 2022/2023.

Income though is always offset be expenditure, and staff costs alone amount to close on £260,000 (no employee receiving of £60k or over, although the CEO received employee benefits amounting to £62,456).

Fundraising importance

BBE has been successful in increasing membership contributions (now close to £50,000 a year) and gaining grant funding (over £130,000 from the likes of the Backstage Trust, Garfield Weston Foundation, and Foyle Foundation), but as shown, staff costs are now more than 100% of core Arts Council funding. 

Unlike the fantasy economics of a former short lived Prime Minster, the Arts Council pie of funding isn’t likely to be offering any bigger slices soon.

The recently advertised Fundraising Manager post could be one of BBEs most important appointments.  Unlike the fantasy economics of a former short lived Prime Minster, the Arts Council pie of funding isn’t likely to be offering any bigger slices soon.

That has been tacitly acknowledged. In their annual report, the BBE trustees rightly conclude that 2021/22 had seen “further significant progress made by BBE”.  It is hard to argue against that.  


2022 Award winners

Sobering reminder

However, it also makes clear why it has implemented that cautious rainy day ‘piggy bank’ policy to ensure, “that this will protect the staff from the immediate impact should the withdrawal of support by ACE (Arts Council England) occur.” 

2021/22 has shown what BBE’s stability has achieved, it can now only be hoped that the Government through Arts Council England also sees it is a funding price well worth paying for brass bands.

In that case they added that, “…the Charity will be able to continue, albeit on a much reduced, voluntary basis, with continuing membership support and other income streams in the foreseeable future.”

It is a sobering reminder of how ‘stability’ will become the funding buzz word in the arts and culture sector to describe both expectation and disappointment as funding resources are announced. 

2021/22 has shown what BBE’s stability has achieved, it can now only be hoped that the Government through Arts Council England also sees it is a funding price well worth paying for brass bands.

Iwan Fox  

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