Gaining Strength from our Relationships

Gaining Strength from our Relationships

Alison Street, Treasurer of the Music Educators and Researchers of Young Children Network (MERYC-England), writes about their training session supported by Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy.

MERYC-England is changing. For over fifteen years we have been a loose but passionate and dedicated network of musicians, academics and practitioners all working with young children and their families in settings and in the private sector across England. We have recently gained charitable status as an organisation with the remit of creating platforms for sharing and dialogue that support musical education and experiences for children up to five and their families. And so, to help develop our understanding and planning for the future we held a fundraising training meeting in Cambridge on 29th September 2016. This was funded by Arts Fundraising and Philanthropy and facilitated by Michelle Wright, CEO of Cause4.

The meeting provided a wonderful opportunity for getting together from across England; we were fourteen, travelling from the south-west, the north-west and east. As most of the MERYC network is made up of freelance artists and teachers it is very difficult to find the time and the finances to attend meetings. This training day proved to be rewarding in many ways; it enabled colleagues to renew joint interests, new relationships to be made, ideas to be discussed, and some practical ways forward to be identified. It was a chance for us to reflect on what we as a small, committed team had achieved over the last few years as a volunteer body, developing and sustaining an active network of members through the organisation of national, highly regarded research-practice dissemination events.

Michelle was both informative and provocative. She asked us what fundraising meant to us. Our joint experience ranged from the frustration of facing rejection to sailing on crests of waves of successfully funded projects. It was refreshing to hear her quote the simple statement ‘It’s just about asking people for resources to do more of what I love doing’. This set the tone, because we could surely identify what it is we love doing as a clear starting point.

The simplicity of this statement was almost disarming; we found ourselves trying to find the words without falling over them, without them seeming empty rhetoric, whilst attempting to unpeel the kernel of the thinking. We realised that future success of the work depended on a balance of respect for each other’s skills, knowledge and energies. That we are more than a conference team; we exist to promote music with and for young children where research can inform practice and practice informs research. Was this rare? Could it be regarded as distinctive and valuable enough to attract funding? But we were motivated by the realisation that the ideas flying around the table could collectively create a whole that was bigger than the sum of its parts. Practice could be innovative, exciting and essentially participatory for families who may not normally have the chance to take part. This could be a key point to take forward in our action plan for funding in the short term; for our European Network MERYC conference in June 2017 at Homerton, Cambridge.

Michelle made us aware of the importance of positioning ourselves clearly and distinctively, of relating carefully to the places where conferences take place. This means connecting creatively in local partnerships and being open to needs and potential of diverse local communities. Who the people are, which schools, which arts organisations, where families go, and how they engage with music. She encouraged us to draw on existing partnership relationships and to take risks with reaching out to both the business community and to individuals.

We ended the session with heads buzzing, in the realisation that the trust we have built as a network lies in keeping integrity in our relationships and clarity in our aims.  The meeting came at a transformative moment for our organisation. It has empowered us into thinking and action that looks both forward and outward.

The feedback of how the training was facilitated was overwhelmingly positive: ‘What I had assumed would be hard work and dull was inspiring, very interesting and encouraging - excellent!’

I thought it was going to be a dry session but it was exciting, positive and creative and very enjoyable.  Michelle facilitated skilfully, effectively and responsively which made our brains spark and ideas fly!  A very informative as well as enjoyable morning.

It was clear that Michelle had planned the session to focus on the needs of our organisation. I learned that we have something unique, rare, valuable and unsubstitutable to offer our sector. Together we can work on attracting funding from a variety of sources with a clear, straight forward & inspirational message. I left feeling inspired by the group of colleagues I have the privilege to work with.

A brilliantly facilitated morning led by the informative and insightful Michelle. The session came at a crucial time for MERYC thinking about how we develop as a newly founded charity. Michelle challenged us to think about how to clearly express our funding proposals. I think it made us feel empowered and motivated as a team. 

Go us! 

In a short sharp session, Michelle set out both the funding context and potential for us. She also challenged us to be clear in our goals. We were able to see real future potential support for MERYC, to refine  our vision and make steps to achieve it.