An award-winning music cooperative that teaches 5,000 children and young people has revealed ambitious plans to expand the service.
Among those banging the drum for the North Wales Music Cooperative is Mark Isherwood, the North Wales MS, who’s calling for a reliable, long-term source of funding for the organisation that provides work for 72 self-employed music teachers.
The Welsh Government is set to unveil plans for a national music service and Mr Isherwood says the successful cooperative model should be used as a template for the rest of the country.
The cooperative, which runs two sister organisations in Denbighshire and Wrexham, stepped up to the plate when the pandemic struck in March 2020.
They revamped the service and “pushed the boundaries to technology” to set up a brand new online platform, www.totallymusic.com to hold virtual classes and keep the music lessons alive.
Their pioneering approach, with backing from the Welsh Government, was honoured at the prestigious Social Business Wales Awards where they won the technology category, Tech for Good.
Mr Isherwood said: “I am incredibly impressed with what they have achieved since the cooperative was established seven years ago when council-run music services came to an end..
“I’m a great fan of community enterprise and this shows how it works, not only in terms of expertise but also in terms of passion, commitment and a community voice coming together and creating such success.
“Wrexham and Denbighshire councils are on board and the opportunity is for so many more to take advantage of this service at a time when councils going the other way, either removing a service altogether or considering making their music teachers redundant.
“This is a solution, working locally, but it needs more sustainable support.
“I’m pleased to give it my full support and I’ll go down to Cardiff and advocate with the Welsh Government.
“As we’ve heard today, the more local authorities that come on board, the cheaper the relative cost of providing those services and therefore the more people they can reach. So, it’s a win-win.
“My message to other local authorities in North Wales is to look at what they’re doing here, look at what they’ve achieved and then compare that with what they’re able to offer or potentially considering reducing the offer in the future.”
Cooperative founder and head of service Heather Powell was grateful to Mr Isherwood for his support.
She said: “There is a discussion at the Senedd about a rollout of a national music service for Wales.
“While it’s great that there’s going to be more funding for music services across Wales, it’s also important to recognise that it can be delivered successfully by a third sector organisation like the North Wales Music Cooperative.
“We don’t necessarily have to be a local authority service. We have very successful working partnerships with both our local authorities but it works very well having a cooperative which is also a Labour Party model for delivery.
“Sharing premises, with a cooperative of cooperatives if you like, means that we can deliver the service more cost effectively across both authorities that we cover.
“We rely a lot on grants. We rely a lot on goodwill and good working relationships and living hand to mouth, having to apply for funding every year.
“It would be a massive help to have some longer term security in a service that’s already been through redundancy, already been through cuts.
“Wales is a cultural country and rightly famed for being the Land of Song so it is only right that our music should be safeguarded.”
It was a sentiment echoed by cooperative chair Cllr Mark Young who said: “We are grateful to our local authority funders and the Welsh Government who have all invested in us and enabled us to create a successful model that can be rolled-out to other areas.
“What we need is a long term commitment of funding over two or three years, or preferably five years. It would be better for the pupils and better for the teachers we employ.
“Our ambition is to grow so that we can bring music to more and more children and do so even more cost-effectively through economies of scale, delivering even greater value for money.”
Mike Williams, from Social Business Wales, has been involved with the North Wales Music Cooperative since its inception.
He said: “From a standing start seven years ago, they’ve developed a very successful model and they were able to expand their service during the pandemic through the delivery of virtual music lessons and virtual concerts.
“The music cooperative powered ahead and put a programme together within a remarkably short time, reaching 1000 children a week, not just benefitting from the music itself but from the wellbeing that’s been proven to follow through with that.
“There’s huge potential to expand but ensuring it receives the right support is critical and something that would really be useful would be the development of a model of finance that would allow security over not just 12 months, as the current contract has to be with the authorities.
“Five years of course, would be ideal because it would allow for future planning, the taking of strategic decisions with confidence and that could only lead to a better and an improved service.”