A project initiated by

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

"We see everything that we do as BSO output. Whether that’s a symphonic concert or it’s two musicians working in a care home, it has the same value to us as a company."

From its base in Poole, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra reaches across the South-West region, stretching as far east as Portsmouth and north as Gloucestershire, and including the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight. The orchestra itself was established in 1893, but for the past 25 years has extended its activities beyond the concert hall, into community settings including schools. Chief executive Dougie Scarfe leads a senior management team of six, including Head of BSO Participate Lisa Tregale, who support him in shaping and executing the strategic direction of the organisation. With 60 full-time contractual musicians, roughly 25 administrative staff and a team of regular part-time freelancers, BSO has a staff of roughly 100, and an annual turnover in the region of £7m. Roughly a third of its income is received via Arts Council England (it is a National Portfolio Organisation) and Local Authority funding; a third is revenue and income; and a third comprises fundraising, BSO Participate income, investments, and orchestral tax relief.

Mission: a cultural beacon beyond the concert hall

Lisa Tregale is a relatively new appointment at BSO – she was part of a senior management team reshuffle led by Dougie Scarfe on his appointment as Chief Executive in 2012 – and in describing the sharpening of the orchestra’s mission acknowledges the “great work” BSO has done in community settings since the 1990s. However, she also points out that this work was “an additional thing that the company did – whereas now it’s very much core”. As Head of BSO Participate, but in discussion with and supported by the entire senior management team, she has overseen a shift in focus, not away from the concert hall exactly, but to being “a cultural organisation with a world-class orchestra at its heart, finding new models of delivery and new ways of working”.

Key to that shift was the creation, in 2015, of a team of Associates: people embedded in specific communities, who “really understand what the community need”, are “experts in pedagogy”, and “amazing music animateurs”. Previously, BSO had “one full-time employed community musician, which was fantastic – but he was trying to cover the whole of the region by himself”. Bearing in mind that the “catchment is 10,000 square miles” and includes “a very, very diverse population, from extremely rural to the urban centres of Bristol, Plymouth, Exeter, Portsmouth and Southampton”, Tregale says this was “mission impossible”. Now BSO has two dedicated staff in Cornwall, two in Wessex, one in Devon and one in Bristol/Gloucestershire.

Through additional training, BSO has also expanded the number of musicians who deliver Participate projects, from a “core group of players who had been doing this for a long time”, to “about 85% of our orchestra”. Crucially, “we see everything that we do as BSO output. Whether that’s a symphonic concert or it’s two musicians working in a care home, it has the same value to us as a company. And working in the community is beyond audience development: it’s about building relationships and keeping relationships with people – and delivering work with and not to.”

“Working in the community is beyond audience development: it’s about building relationships and keeping relationships with people – and delivering work with and not to.”

Three visions…

The key words guiding BSO Participate’s work are “impact, innovation and individual. Impact is about making sure that we do the right thing at the right time, for and with the right people. Innovation is about exploring new models and creating best practice for the delivery of work across our diverse region. And individual is being inspired by and creating for individual people, groups, organisations and communities.”

Working in partnership is crucial: “There are plenty of high-quality music deliverers in the region, we’re very lucky with that. So when we frame our work, it’s about working with partners to make sure that there’s true legacy in the work that we do. We don’t just go in, do a project and go away again. We go in, do a project with someone and then they’re there on the ground to continue and maximise the impact of that work.” And the project “depends on the context. It can be as simple as giving a concert in a school or delivering a workshop, through to creating a whole community opera over a year and getting them to perform it at an international event, to working on an acute care ward in a hospital and enabling somebody in later stages of dementia to create their own piece of music or song.”

“When we frame our work, it’s about working with partners to make sure that there’s true legacy in the work that we do. We don’t just go in, do a project and go away again.

… and five programmes

BSO delivers its community work across the region through five distinct programmes:

Bbs: focused on the under-fives and their parents/carers

This strand is particularly interested in testing new models based in “creative play and using music as a form of expression”. It is also geographically specific: work in Torbay and Devon has involved “longer-term residency in low socio-economic areas, using music as a constant to enable personal growth and development of three- to four-year-olds”. And in Bournemouth and Poole it has involved “using music as a bonding force between parents – some of whom are very young – and babies under 12 months, enabling them to have a positive experience with their child, when a lot of the time is quite isolated and lonely”.

Blast: for five- to 18-year-olds, in and out of school

Blast operates across the region, particularly in partnership with Music Education Hubs, and varies dependent on need. Projects vary from supporting music teachers with the professional development needed to establish ensemble music-making in primary schools, to introducing children to the full spectrum of orchestral instrumentation, to “empowering disabled young people. Inclusivity is a big theme for us: we don’t run a specific special needs strand, but have the same offer to every school and tailor it to students’ individual needs.” BSO also run primary-to-secondary “transition days, enabling the music teacher in the secondary to identify musicians that are coming up into their school, and empowering the older students as peer mentors”.

“Inclusivity is a big theme for us: we don’t run a specific special needs strand, but have the same offer to every school and tailor it to students’ individual needs.”

Rising Talent: supporting the next generation of the industry

This strand works to identify “under-18s with exceptional talent and potential, and emerging young professionals – both in the concert hall and outside, so arts administration as well as performance”. In particular, BSO is keen to support “the diversification of people coming through to conservatoire” and through a partnership with Trinity Laban is “supporting young people who might not have the opportunity” to pursue music as study and career. Says Tregale: “It’s been very easy for orchestras to sit back and say, ‘It’s not our problem, conservatoires aren’t bringing diverse students forward. So it’s about us reaching down and supporting people at grassroots level to encourage and support that development.”

“It’s been very easy for orchestras to sit back and say, ‘It’s not our problem, conservatoires aren’t bringing diverse students forward. So it’s about us reaching down and supporting people at grassroots level to encourage and support that development.”

Resonate: community cross-generational working

Resonate has no age limit: “We have family orchestras with members aged from three to 100 all playing together.” And it has no geographic limit: such orchestras now exist in Bournemouth, Southampton, Torquay, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Each one was a response to local need discovered through “partnerships spawned with individuals and community groups by our Associates on a local level”.

Boost: music for health and well-being

Although this strand also has no age limit, at present it is mostly focused on older people, and in particular people with dementia. It’s important, says Tregale, that “if people are unable to come into the concert hall after they’ve had perhaps a lifetime relationship with us, their relationship shouldn’t end”. Through partnership with the NHS and the Alzheimer’s Society, BSO work across “a network of care homes, Memory Cafes and acute care wards” delivering a series of “concerts designed specifically for people living with dementia” and workshops called Music for a While. As with all Participate programmes, “there’s no one size fits all: it’s about what’s the right group of people to get together, and what a community need”.

“There’s no one size fits all: it’s about what’s the right group of people to get together, and what a community need”.

Turning a challenge into an opportunity

Although geography might be seen as “a massive barrier – I have to get on a plane or a boat to get to some of the places we cover” – Tregale emphasises that “challenge presents real opportunity, because it gets you to really think about things differently, and test assumptions about what a symphony orchestra is and what you do. Because this work is core to the company, we can be really responsive and proactive – and because the nature of so many agendas, whether within local authority or Music Education Hubs, is changing and developing, we can be at the forefront of those conversations, supporting other organisations and helping to shape those agendas.”

And while Tregale has seen, for instance, Music Education Hubs struggle to maintain funding long-term, she says that Participate is now so central to BSO that its work is internally protected. “We have to raise nearly a million pounds a year: that is always a challenge, but we have a strong development team who absolutely understand why we do it and how we do it. And we have a holistic budget-setting process, all my projects are there at the start of conversation, along with where we do ensemble concerts, where we’re going to take the full orchestra.”

What next?

All of the work described forms the spine of BSO’s plans through to 2022, and has the underlying aim of “making us a 21st-century orchestra that’s reflective of the society that we are now in. We’ve been doing a huge amount of work around BME and socio-economic background, supporting young people in music, and we’re launching a 10-year orchestral challenge around their engagement with western classical music. Currently we have a resident conductor who is disabled, and in 2018 we’ll have the first ever disabled-led ensemble embedded in an international orchestra. They will perform as a core ensemble – we have six or seven ensembles in BSO who tour and do performances – so they will be part of that portfolio. One of their members is a contracted member of the BSO anyway, and that ensemble will be augmented by other members of BSO. So they are totally integrated within the company.”

Within Participate specifically, the next four years will be dedicated not only to continuing existing work but “developing new models around health and wellbeing. We’ve been doing a lot of cross-generational work and working with people that are pre- and post-verbal, including bringing early years into residential care homes and doing pre- and post-verbal music workshops. Now we’re looking at creating a dementia orchestra, and an orchestra for people living with and surviving cancer, and their families.” With such wide scope to the work, Tregale recognises that it is vital to maintain “a really clear strategy, that’s informed by the region, and who we are as a company”.

Photo: Cornwall 12: Family Orchestra – cross generational music making (courtesty of BSO)

Leave a comment