As Arts and Cultural Organisations fight to keep the lights on, where do young people fit in our future agenda?

As Arts and Cultural Organisations fight to keep the lights on, where do young people fit in our future agenda?

Youth centres in England have suffered a 70% funding cut in less than a decade. Now, young people have had their lives turned upside down by the pandemic. Young Minds recently conducted a survey which showed that 81% of young people felt that the crisis had led to a deterioration in their mental health.

Beatfreeks, a young people’s engagement and insight agency in the West Midlands, shared that young people felt their voices weren’t being heard or their opinions valued in their Take the Temperature report, as they sought to understand and demonstrate the impact of Coronavirus for 16-25 year olds. Young people across the country have shared their experiences, anxieties and fear of being the ‘Coronavirus generation’, having lost out on key milestones and feeling let down by the government – you only have to look at the chaos that ensued when A-Level results were released!

Over the years, where young people have been let down by the government, arts and cultural organisations have scrambled to pick up the pieces. The sector has tried to plug the gap - supporting and nurturing the most vulnerable young people. From the Albany in Deptford working closely with a social housing provider to develop an award-winning Hip-Hop theatre programme on estates in Lewisham; to Contact Manchester putting young people at the heart of everything they do. Arts and cultural organisations are no strangers to making incredible life changing work happen, despite relentless statutory funding cuts; working incessantly to adapt, diversify income streams and find new ways of being resilient.

What next?

Now that arts and cultural organisations battle to keep the lights on, how many will fight to keep their outreach departments? There is no doubt that redundancies have been made as a necessary last resort to ensure survival. Whether Learning & Participation teams remain in some form will speak volumes about an organisation’s priorities.

Outreach departments have always been there supporting the young people that need it the most, but they are also crucial for the lifeblood of a theatre itself. Young people are our future artists and creatives – if we don’t invest in them now, we won’t have rich, exciting, bold and diverse voices creating work in the future. For some young people theatre isn’t accessible. Outreach departments are vital as they give young people access to the theatre. Often outreach work may be the first or only way a young person will ever come to the theatre to see a show or engage in the arts, especially in areas of cultural deprivation. This is vital as ensuring young people are included in theatre at a formative age will ensure engagement and participation through the rest of their lives as our future audiences.

Birmingham Hippodrome is one of the largest arts organisations in the country and receives no statutory funding – fundraising is essential to achieve our ambitions and vision for a fairer, more equitable, accessible and representative venue for the people of our city. 93% of income comes from programmed shows on our stages and associated activity and 7% from donations, trusts and foundations and other fundraising activity. Before the pandemic, the organisation had a sustainable and resilient funding model where Artistic Director & Chief Executive Fiona Allan, described the organisation’s commercial head and charitable heart with one feeding the other, alongside fundraising efforts that make the crucial final difference.

Overnight the independent strength of this financial model has crumbled, as the doors have shut and 93% of income has disappeared. Despite this, work with young people in schools remains a priority as we reach out into our communities and ensure that access is a priority.

Since our current Artistic Director and CEO came into place with a vision of a ‘Barbican for Birmingham’ and the idea of the Hippodrome being ‘A Living Room for the City’ we’ve been on a journey. There’s no doubt that young people’s work was central to our strategy pre COVID-19 but similar to many it’s provided an opportunity to pause and reflect as well as having to make difficult decisions about what we can continue more broadly as an organisation and within that what the absolute priorities are and should be. This process has meant that the senior leadership team and board have stopped to recognise the impact and the value that our work with young people has.

It has involved difficult decisions about what else we can commit to short term, conversations about where funds can be rerouted and working closely with schools to secure ongoing financial contributions.  No, we can’t do everything that we did before. Yes, it’s going to be tougher than ever, but we are committed to ensuring that this work remains central to our DNA. In the short term our work is going to be about building young people back up, focusing on mental health and resilience, whilst fundamentally ensuring that young people are increasingly central to everything we do. It’s an essential commitment to our future and the focus of our fundraising strategy.

The world has changed, and Birmingham Hippodrome is adapting and changing to reflect this. For me, it feels really important that we don’t jump back into doing what we’ve always done.  The situation presents an opportunity to take a moment to reflect, reimagine and reinvent what things might look like from here, whilst considering what is achievable. It’s about rebuilding in a new way that is relevant - with young people at the very heart of that. For the Hippodrome, it’s about ensuring that young people are at the decision-making tables and that we are truly serving them. We have made a commitment first and foremost to work with young people to shape our future activity and a revitalised approach to fundraising for this work, starting with a new and specific case for support. We are ready to listen and learn!

Here is some of what we’ve learned along the way:

  • Recognise the importance of taking time to stop and reflect, re-evaluating priorities and what makes your organisation who they are 
  • Take time to think about the organisation that you want to resurface from the pandemic
  • If young people’s work is a priority, ensure that young people get a seat at the decision making tables and that their voices are central to the decisions that are made


It’s clear that the future is uncertain, and fundraising will continue to be a challenge for the arts and cultural sector for some time. It will take time to rebuild, there’s no doubt about that, but it also feels more important than ever that we invest in fundraising and hold our nerve. Change is inevitable and it’s going to be a bumpy few years, but we have an opportunity to re-emerge stronger than ever before!


You can follow Zaylie on Twitter @ZaylieDawn, and keep up to date with all of the Birmingham Hippodrome's work @brumhippodrome.