Drama and dance clubs, mural painting, visual arts projects, book fairs and museum visits are just some of the ways children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in Swindon and Wiltshire are benefitting from a Challenge Fund supported project.

So far £51,000 of the £75,000 grant distributed by RIO on behalf of the Arts Council has been spent by Artsmad – a collection of professional artists, musicians, film makers, education leaders, museums, libraries and councils.

Artsmad applied to the Challenge Fund because the group, led by Prime Theatre in Swindon, felt passionately about creating bespoke arts education packages and cultural opportunities for children and young people in a variety of different schools and settings. This cultural education would be tailored to their specific circumstances and needs – whether the children be in a large town or rural location, have Special Educational Needs, have disabilities or come from a military community. The financial boost from the Challenge Fund was coupled with match-funding from the schools involved with much of that money being provided by the protected Pupil Premium spend: a pot of additional money to be spent in order to raise the attainment of disadvantaged pupils of all abilities. Schools are obliged to submit a report detailing the impact of Pupil Premium spending to Ofsted. Before the Artsmad project was launched these primary, secondary and specialist schools hadn’t previously invested this money in this way. The group set up the project as they were concerned about a lack of funds within school budgets to pay for arts education which they believe provides an enormous positive contribution to pupils’ mental health and well-being. Artsmad founders contacted schools directly and spoke at Head Teachers’ associations and finance meetings in order to secure the additional funding required to release the Challenge Fund grant.

Another portion of the Challenge Fund money was used to appoint four Cultural Champions; a group of senior and middle leaders in schools who, in addition to their main role, work with the partner organisations to improve and promote the arts and cultural education projects within schools. The Artsmad project leaders have also started eleven schools on the journey to receive Artsmark status which is the creative quality standard for schools accredited by the Arts Council with one of their partner primary schools already achieving the silver award. The project has also seen 800 children and young people receive their own individual Arts Awards.

The Challenge Fund was critical to secure initial funds as schools were wary of investing money in arts and culture. By tracking development of pupils’ progress the return for Pupil Premium spend became clear and this resulted in several schools increasing their spend and spreading the word to others. Without the Challenge Fund money Artsmad is certain the project would not have been funded in this pilot stage. It has also allowed the group to increase the reach and diversity of the schools it works with.

Artsmad is confident the project will continue after the initial Challenge Fund grant has been spent. This pilot project has allowed positive relationships between arts organisations and schools to form, the newly-appointed Cultural Champions will act as advocates for the future delivery of arts projects and, most importantly, the children and young people involved have benefited hugely. They have found the opportunities engaging and enjoyable and their confidence and motivation has improved. The project has also given them a sense of achievement through the earning and celebration of the Arts Awards. Hopefully schools will continue to invest their Pupil Premium funds in the projects and with such a successful Challenge Fund pilot scheme under their belts, Artsmad hopes to be able to secure more private and public funding to continue this legacy of artistic and cultural partnerships in local schools.