The Paths We Take - Royal Opera House Br

"I hope you enjoy reading about the work we have been supporting through ROH Bridge and will be encouraged to take up the Cultural Education Challenge, to connect more children with great art and culture and to really make a difference." – Alex Beard CBE  Chief Executive, Royal Opera House

Royal Opera House Bridge has been providing strategic support and advocacy for cultural learning across Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Essex and North Kent since 2012. In 2015 Arts Council England awarded ROH Bridge a further three years funding to continue and build on that work. 'The Paths We Take' presents a view of our work since 2012 and a vision for the future.

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Are We Nearly There Yet?

Sally Manser, Head of Royal Opera House Bridge reflects on how long-term partnerships and strategic support have opened new paths to future opportunities for all.

Children performing at FUSED Festival as part of Thurrock Trailblazer © ROH 2015. Photo by Brian Slater.
Children performing at FUSED Festival as part of Thurrock Trailblazer © ROH 2015. Photo by Brian Slater.

When we set off on this journey as Royal Opera House Bridge in 2012, I’m not sure I fully envisaged all the many different paths we would end up travelling. The goal has always been clear but the landscape is forever changing.

As we have developed new partnerships, learned together and trialled innovative models, new opportunities have continued to open up. Now, embarking on a second three- year term until March 2018, it is a key moment to look back on all that has been achieved and to look ahead at the new challenges and new paths we will take together.

"We are becoming better at helping to build working relationships that find sustainable solutions to local needs."

Feedback from our annual stakeholder survey suggests that the role of ROH Bridge, as a broker of cultural education relationships, is increasingly understood and that there is a growing confidence in the impact of that work. Our annual conference Ahead for Culture, this year on the theme of leadership, attracted over 200 delegates. This shows a flourishing movement of skilled professionals who are championing cultural learning in the region and a real desire to connect across sectors. We are proud of the recognition that the connections we have brokered have received: for example the prestigious curriculum development award attached to Creative Writing through the Arts in Billericay, the increasing numbers of schools now subscribing to Thurrock Trailblazer, Canvey Island schools choosing to invest in work with Pop Up, the national interest shown in the Arts and Cultural Commissioning Toolkit that we have helped develop in Kent and an increase in support for the work of music hubs in special schools across the region.

We are becoming better at helping to build working relationships that find sustainable solutions to local needs. However, we are operating in an evolving landscape that requires a flexible and agile response. Only 54% of respondents to our survey felt confident about the future of arts and culture for children in their area. There is still much we must do.

Thurrock Trailblazer © ROH 2015. Photograph by Brian Slater.
Thurrock Trailblazer © ROH 2015. Photograph by Brian Slater.

The climate that the ROH Bridge Programme Managers are working in is a cautious and tentative one. Many organizations face reduced capacity. Arts departments in secondary schools and FE colleges are shrinking; all schools face a new OFSTED framework and new accountability measures for indicating school performance; primary schools are engaging with an unfamiliar, more knowledge-driven curriculum while fighting to maintain standards and build aspiration in their learners and cultural organizations have increasingly small core teams and must rely on freelance support for their learning work. This kind of austere ecology makes growth difficult.

"Yes, there is a challenge ahead, but as a community we are prepared"

However, there are many positives on the immediate horizon. The Artsmark Award has been revitalized, by schools for schools, and provides a new and flexible way to support whole school integration of arts and culture. Arts Council England has issued a cross-sector call to arms through the Cultural Education Challenge, with a clear focus on establishing Local Cultural Education Partnerships. The Royal Opera House’s new Learning and Participation Strategy is full of new approaches to increase reach beyond London through partnerships and innovative use of digital technologies.

The number of successful applications to the ACE Grants for the Arts programme has increased significantly across the whole Bridge region since 2012. While this is not all for cultural learning activities, it does show a growing ambition and effectiveness among arts organizations in our area.

Looking towards 2018, we are committed to helping establish a high quality cultural learning offer for all children and young people in our region. We will do this through nurturing new Local Cultural Education Partnerships, helping partners to embed Quality Principles in their work and supporting all schools with their Artsmark journey.

The Paths We Take presents a selection of strategic partnerships that we have supported in different ways over the last few years. It offers a long-term view on the nature of the changes in cultural learning opportunities for children and young people that we have witnessed develop in that time. The aim is not to simply reflect on three years of our partners’ accomplishments. We want to make visible the leaps of faith, false starts, timely interventions and real triumphs that make up such journeys so that they can inform all of our next steps. My hope is that by hearing from our partners, in their own words, we can celebrate the multiplicity and vibrancy in the region, and that these models can guide us along other paths to success.

Yes, there is a challenge ahead, but as a community we are prepared. In our survey, 68% of respondents said they now feel more confident to advocate for arts and culture in their area.

So, are we nearly there yet? It may be a long road, but together we have the confidence, skills and passion to make huge strides.

Sally Manser
Head of Royal Opera House Bridge.


The Paths We Take would not have been possible without the time, knowledge and skill contributed by all of our partners across the region and beyond.

For this publication particular thanks are also due to:


Patrick Boyd

Gary Day

Colin Fraser

Graham Watson / Cat Lane


Kate Shaw / ROH Publications

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