What Are We Learning?

What Are We Learning? was a research project commissioned by Wiltshire Music Connect to capture what the music education sector in Wiltshire were learning from the move to online musical tuition during the coronavirus lockdown in spring and summer 2020.  I was the lead researcher with a team of 8 co-researchers (all Associates of Wiltshire Music Connect) investigating how tutors, students and families’ experiences of musical learning during lockdown had changed practice and aspirations for the future.  The research involved written reflective case studies by the co-researchers, online interviews with 32 students who took part in online tuition during lockdown, and online questionnaire responses from 53 children/young people and 234 parents/carers.

The research outputs were 3 documents with differing levels of detail about the findings: a visual summary of the headlines, a 6-page summary report and an 18-page more detailed report.  All are available to download on the Wiltshire Music Connect website.

Graphic by thirteen.co.uk

Babigloo Music for Babies

Babigloo is a non-verbal approach to music making for babies aged 0 to 12 months and their parents / carers.  The Babigloo musicians create a multi-sensory environment which encourages listening, communication and playfulness between babies and their parents / carers using live and recorded music, sound, movement, gesture, visual and tactile materials, babies’ vocalisations and non-verbal communication.   Babigloo music making sessions last around 45 minutes, balancing structured activities which build on babies’ sensory perceptions, with spontaneous vocal and non-verbal interaction with the babies.

The Babigloo musicians (Jenny Gordon, Michele O’Brien and Colin Phillimore) trained with Professor Paulo Lameiro in non-verbal approaches to music making with babies, drawing on the music learning theories of Professor Edwin E. Gordon.

In 2018 to 2019, the Arts Development Company worked with Babigloo to co-ordinate a year-long project for families in Poole Children’s Centres (led by Borough of Poole) and East Dorset Children’s Centres (led by Action for Children).  The project, funded by Youth Music and Poole Arts Service, was structured in 3 phases across the year, offering 9 x weekly sessions for families in 6 different locations in Poole and Dorset.  A total of 61 families took part over the year (62 babies and 68 adults) and professional development or practice sharing opportunities involved 47 people (including musicians, music educators, local authority elected members, and early years and children’s services professionals).

I designed an evaluation framework which complemented evaluation reporting by the children’s centres and created an evaluation report and case studies of families.

Download the evaluation report

Download a family case study

Celebrating Age Wiltshire

Celebrating Age Wiltshire 2017 to 2020 was a partnership project to increase access and inclusion to arts events for older people (funded by Arts Council England and the Baring Foundation’s Celebrating Age Programme).  I was contracted in the final year of the 3-year project to undertake an evaluation and help develop a case for further funding.  A second phase of CAW from 2020 to 2025, primarily supported by The National Lottery Community Fund, aims to reduce social isolation amongst older people through participation in arts, heritage and cultural events.

Download the evaluation report for CAW 2017 to 2020

Alternative Visions

Alternative Visions was a project to tour a visual art exhibition, made by artists facing barriers to the art world, to 4 venues in the South West of England – Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, Falmouth Art Gallery, The Wilson in Cheltenham and Poole Museum.  Arts and Health South West and Outside In were also project partners.  Alternative Visions aimed to:

  • challenge and question perceptions of art in relation to people who are excluded from the mainstream art world, for reasons including health, disability, social circumstance or isolation.
  • highlight issues of diversity, interpretation and relationships between artists and curators.
  • initiate discussion around what people think should be considered as art.
  • influence the attitudes of audiences and get more work exhibited in mainstream spaces by those facing barriers.
  • create a fairer art world which rejects traditional values and institutional judgements about whose work can and should be displayed in galleries.

The project was primarily funded by Arts Council England’s Strategic Touring Programme.  20 artworks, from over 300 submitted, were selected for the exhibition.

I led the evaluation process including creating an evaluation plan, data gathering methods and writing a full internal evaluation report.  The evaluation assessed the impact on artists, audiences and partner organisations through artist and partner phone interviews and informal written audience feedback.

“This is a really important exhibition. It’s equally disturbing, revealing and celebratory. The commentary by Artists First is incredibly thought provoking and adds an insightful context, changes your perception.  All of the artists should be congratulated. I went to art college but was kicked out, in part due to struggling with mental health problems. This exhibition, the art and the commentary has made me feel better.  We all have a place we can be an artist.”

Comment from audience feedback postcard

It was so enabling to know that someone picked my work as worth being in the exhibition.  I also want to contribute [something] back. You get told a lot as a person on benefits that you are a non-contributing person, you are a drain on society. So, an opportunity to make a concrete contribution to anything – it makes you feel less worthless. I feel that now I can legitimately say that I’m an artist rather than ‘I’m signed off sick’ – as an identity.  That’s a huge contribution to my quality of life.”

One of the selected artists in an evaluation interview

Extracts of the evaluation report were used in a project report by Arts and Health South West.

Photo of exhibition by Eve Andreski. Artwork by Widow Twanky.

Circus City 2017

Bristol Circus City is a biennial festival which introduces new audiences to contemporary circus, promotes circus as an inspirational and diverse artform, and raises the profile of Bristol as a leading city in the UK to watch, create and participate in contemporary circus.  The 2017 festival presented 85 events in 20 different venues around the city.

The evaluation approach was a collaborative and outcomes-focused mixed methods design which considered 3 areas: audiences; artform and sector development; organisational impact for Circus City.  Analysis of quantitative data illustrated how the festival had developed its reach, compared with Circus City 2015:

  • 37% of audience survey respondents had not attended contemporary circus before.
  • 56% of audience survey respondents had not attended any Circus City 2015 events.
  • 55% increase in box office income (from 2015).

Qualitative questioning of audiences, artists and venue partners was used in tandem with the quantitative audience survey and box office data:

This was one of my first times watching circus performance. I was taken aback by the challenging, contemporary theatre, which whilst challenging and unexpected, was also very accessible to the wide range of audiences. My mum is still in shock and awe from Tipping Point and won’t stop telling her friends!

 We felt like our work and efforts within the Bristol circus scene was recognised and supported. We had the opportunity to meet, work and network with other artists and producers, and gained more insight in to how to continue to grow and develop our own work as artists.

 Circus City allows us to venture into programming territory which we could not otherwise explore without significant risk, by placing the work in context and focusing audience attention.


Photo by Joe Clarke (model Nat Whittingham)

Fabric of Life

Fabric of Life was a heritage project led by Wiltshire Youth Arts Partnership which aimed to explore LGBT and gender identity, through the lens of fashion and textiles.  Groups of young people went on research visits to local museums and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, followed by working with lead artists to explore dance, theatre or visual art and create a performance event to interpret LGBT heritage.

The evaluation concluded that Fabric of Life’s creative approach to interpretation was effective at engaging more people in heritage.  Young people and their communities appreciated the project for how it helped them personally, socially and as a community celebration of LBGT history and culture.

The project raised awareness amongst arts and heritage organisations of LGBT issues and helped them to be more inclusive of diverse audiences.  It enabled heritage collections to be used in different ways and has helped organisations identify how they might develop their collections in relation to LGBT history.

Photo by Laurence Dubé-Rushby

Take Note

Take Note was a commission from Wiltshire Music Connect Music Education Hub to undertake a Youth Voice consultation with children and young people across the county. Using focus groups, case studies, online and written questionnaires, almost 800 children, young people, parents and carers were consulted about music making in Wiltshire. The key findings and recommendations are being used by the Hub in their strategic planning.

“Music is the best thing I do. My favourite memories are centred around music, as well as my closest friends met through it. Writing and performing is an incomparable experience and I am so grateful that it is part of my life”.  (Focus group participant – aged 16)

Download Wiltshire Music Connect’s infographic of the key findings.

Libraries West Touring Programme

Co-ordinated by South Gloucestershire Arts Development, the Libraries West Touring Programme toured a children’s theatre production by Travelling Light Theatre Company to libraries across the West of England, with the aim of increasing library engagement by Year 6 children and increasing access to high-quality theatre for young audiences.  The project involved 57 performances, in 29 libraries in 7 different library authorities, for over 2,000 children and 225 teachers from 45 schools.

Evaluation data showed that for 33% of children who completed a questionnaire it was the first time they had visited their local library.

“I liked the way it made me feel and the way it took me somewhere else. I enjoyed the way it made me think”.  (Year 6 audience member)

“The performance was outstanding – pupils completely engaged and I could see strong links that supported some of our pupils who are undergoing emotional events in their own lives. Pupils really enjoyed it and generally agreed that they would now like to go to the theatre more”.  (Year 6 teacher)

Download LWTP Evaluation Summary


Sound Splash Case Studies

Sound Splash was Bristol Plays Music’s Musical Inclusion module, funded by Youth Music between 2012 and 2015. After writing an interim evaluation report for Sound Splash, I was commissioned to research and write a series of Case Studies which were a key aspect of sharing the project’s learning across the music education sector. Using structured interviews, I worked with 10 organisations to help them articulate the learning from their Breakthrough and Coldspot projects

Download a PDF with all the Case Studies.

Trowbridge Song Project

The Trowbridge Song Project was a 2 year oral history and song project, led by Sounding It Out Community Choir and funded by ACE Grants for the Arts, which aimed to collect songs and stories from people who had migrated to Trowbridge.  The evaluation concluded that the aims of increasing intercultural understanding and strengthening ties between different communities were fully met. The project gathered stories of migration which now form one of the largest oral history collections archived at Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre.

“Trowbridge is not often represented so powerfully and on a day when the whole world was shocked and dismayed by what had happened in Paris this [performance] was a fitting tribute to humanity. This is my town and where I want to live, a place where people know each other, greet each other, respect each other and build the community they live in.  These may all seem like very small achievements but please take it from me that they are paradigm shifts that will help communities build further friendships”.

Download Trowbridge Song Project Evaluation Summary

Early Years Music Mapping and Consultation

The Early Years Music Mapping and Consultation was commissioned by Wiltshire Music Connect, to help them consider what the role of the Hub could be in supporting early years music, and that any action or strategy was responsive to local needs.  I mapped current early years music provision in the county through desk research and online surveys.  Consultation with music specialists who work with under 5’s, early years practitioners and teachers used structured interviews and questionnaires to identify priorities and issues for music making.

Download a summary of the key findings in the report.