Camden Spark: connecting culture and young people by Richard Harrison

Camden Spark is Camden’s Local Cultural Education Partnership, one of a series of partnerships supported by Arts Council England’s Bridge organisations to facilitate relationships between schools and cultural organisations.

Camden Spark started life in 2012 as the Camden Cultural Commissioning Model under the Roundhouse’s Associate Bridge role.  The three years from 2012-2015 saw the commissioning model develop, allowing schools and cultural organisations to co-commission projects for their pupils and students.

Knowledge Quarter partners have already been involved in some of Camden Spark’s projects and partnerships and the collaboration with Camden Spark will support the development of the KQ’s mission and goals. Working with young people to support their creativity, providing them with the options, outlets and knowledge in the cultural and creative industries, will allow KQ partners to have a pedagogical impact and sustain the artistic development of children and young people in the KQ while benefiting from new, fresh invigorating ideas and cultural programmes.

A number of very successful projects were developed as part of the pilot phases of the model, some of which are captured in our 2015 annual report. Some 19 of Camden’s 60 schools, and 21 cultural partners, participated in this first phase of the model.  Strategic support was provided by A New Direction – London’s Bridge organisation – and the Camden School Improvement Service and Arts and Tourism Service.  22 new partnerships were developed through this pilot phase, reaching 550 children and young people across the borough; 65 teachers benefitted from CPD opportunities, including Learning Walks in member schools, and 15 staff members from six cultural organisations participated in mentor training to support them in better advising young people around pathways and progression routes into jobs.

Feedback and evidence at the end of the initial phase suggested that it was 30% more cost efficient for schools and cultural organisations to co-design work than if schools or cultural organisations contact each other directly.  In times of restricted budgets, this monetary saving is much appreciated by members.

Since April 2015 the Camden Cultural Commissioning Model – re-named as Camden Spark in 2016 – has continued to facilitate the brokerage model, with 19 schools and 11 cultural partners actively engaged in projects for this new academic year.  Camden Spark is also committed to engaging in cultural education advocacy, supporting schools, governors and other education stakeholders to understand the importance of a strong cultural education for all of Camden’s children and young people.  Camden Spark is also developing its work in the area of progression into cultural and creative industries higher education and employment, as well as supporting schools and cultural organisations in joint-funding applications and projects.

Our re-launch in June 2016 was attended by over 70 colleagues from schools and cultural organisations, all committed to supporting Camden’s children and young people to connect with culture in the borough and beyond.  Delegates heard from Cllr Richard Cotton, Deputy Mayor of Camden, Cllr Angela Mason, Cabinet Member for Children, Professor Maggie Atkinson, Former Children’s Commissioner and Chair of A New Direction, Laura Gander-Howe, Director, Children, Young People and Learning at Arts Council England, and Dame Margaret Hodge DBE MP, Former Minister of State for Culture, the Creative Industries and Tourism at DCMS and former Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, all of whom spoke about the power and importance of cultural learning for all children and young people.

Camden Spark supports the ambitions of the Cultural Education Challenge, which is Arts Council England’s ‘call for the art, culture and education sectors to work together in offering a consistent and high quality art and cultural education for all children and young people’, and those of the London Cultural Education Challenge, led by A New Direction.

Camden Spark is in the process of becoming a Charitable Incorporated Organisation, and is exploring options for funding from April 2017.  The need for an organisation that facilitates closer and more meaningful collaboration between education providers and cultural organisations is clear, particularly in the borough that is home to the second greatest concentration of cultural and creative industries organisations in the country.  Every child and young person in Camden –  and beyond – has the right to a strong cultural education, and Camden Spark’s aim is to connect the children and young people of Camden with culture.

Richard Harrison

Chair of Camden Spark