Knowle West Media Centre

Bristol-based arts charity Knowle West Media Centre (KWMC) were successful in securing an Arts Council England Bridge Challenge Fund through RIO back in 2014 and have since gone on to secure a second round of funding.

Challenge

Their first Bridge Challenge Fund was used to develop innovative products and services for schools to enhance their ICT and Computing curriculum delivery and encourage them to invest in creative and digital media to solve their problems in this area. Using their experience of working with young people, KWMC devised this work to coincide with the introduction of the new Computing curriculum back in September 2014, which requires all ages to learn to code.

Working with digital media and Maker Lab technologies KWMC expanded their succesful business model by creating incubation spaces for digital enterprises with young people in schools and with schools themselves. This is a new avenue for the creative and cultural sector and as an arts-led organisation KWMC were competing in a new market and offering a unique solution to the challenge of the new curriculum.

KWMC said: “We worked with local and national employers to develop new ways in which to meet the need presented by the skills gap in the digital sector and provide bespoke progression routes for young people into meaningful creative careers, with schools as key partners in the process.

“Our work in 2014 focused on developing unique bespoke relationships with six schools in South Bristol, understanding and predicting their needs and those of their students to create new enterprises and interventions to introduce technology and digital media of the highest quality into teaching, CPD, IT support and procurement of IT kit.”

KWMC’s work is focused on achieving regenerative and culturally beneficial outcomes for the Knowle West community in Bristol. They believe that crucial to the development of their practice is their commitment to the exploration of socially engaged arts in a very local context, yet with international reach in terms of networks, collaboration and sharing practice plus a genuine commitment to excellence and innovation.

Alongside the provision of a creative workspace, supporting entrepreneurial activity and co-designed research, KWMC’s core activity is to “deliver opportunities with local people, to participate in the production of a range of digital media, making and creating content for a wide variety of platforms and audiences. We see KWMC as a facilitator of, and catalyst for, new ideas and creative thinking in communities.”

KWMC has a Young People’s Programme which is based on over sixteen years of evidence of working with children and young people in Knowle West and South Bristol. They explained:

“We aim to increase young people’s participation in the arts and provide opportunities and bespoke progression routes for young people in the creative and digital sectors. By building partnerships with artists, technologists, schools, arts and media organisations and businesses with an interest in the sector, the programme ultimately aims to increase the diversity of Bristol’s creative and digital workforce. Their work with young people is focused on four key areas: Engagement; Skills Development; Training for Employment and Supported Employment.”

Solution

KWMC wanted to create a sustainable programme based on developing long-term relationships with schools and corporate supporters as investors in the work. This kind of relationship between schools and corporates, brokered by an arts organisation, is relatively new and innovative in the digital sector. It is KWMC’s ongoing intention to encourage businesses to recognise the needs the company are meeting for them and invest with their time and money.

The company wanted to create a new relationship between corporates and the customers and workforce of the future, placing the creative and cultural sector at the heart of vocational training for the jobs of the future. The products and services themselves and models of working with young people as digital experts were designed so that they can be shared and replicated elsewhere. KWMC’s approach is developmental and action research based: all findings and evaluation are used to feed the developing business plan and enable them to share the learning with other creative and cultural sector organisations.

They said: “The Bridge Challenge Fund investment was important to us to enable the growth of the internal infrastructure needed to generate and maintain corporate support and build strong relationships with our partner schools.”

Six schools, three primaries and three secondaries, invested in building a relationship with KWMC in the first year in 2014. Their main areas of interest were teacher training and CPD and developing creative and innovative ways of teaching computing at all levels. The schools invested in a year of pilot delivery, agreeing to work with KWMC in an experimental partnership based on their reputation as leaders in this sector. The company also went on to develop strong relationships with two corporate supporters both of which were interested in investing in the schools programme and the overall programme of opportunities on offer for young people. Their interest has been largely in developing a local creative workforce to meet the skills gaps in their organisations whilst supporting local young people facing barriers to employment to become a part of Bristol’s growing digital sector as informed consumers and producers of technology.

RIO CEO Lindsey Hall, who worked with KWMC on their Bridge Challenge Fund bid, said:

“RIO brought their expertise to link up with KWMC to create investment and increase skills. KWMC’s work links in with Bristol as a creative city but also expands it out into underdeveloped areas. They do fantastic social inclusion work in South Bristol and after a successful first round of Bridge Challenge Funding they’re building on this and developing a strong sustainable model which has enabled them to secure follow on funding.”

Results

KWMC were able to measure the impact that the project had on the children and young people who took part. During the first year of delivery KWMC worked directly with over 1000 children and young people aged 4-20 in six schools who learnt to use code to solve problems creatively and as teams, make games and create music using relatively new (to schools) Raspberry Pi computers.

Through creating bespoke interactive arts and technology projects in each school, targeted groups of children and young people were able to share their knowledge with other students, parents and visitors to the school and create something lasting to make technology more visible and accessible.

Over 200 young people in secondary schools had the opportunity to participate in a large-scale research project about social isolation among young people in South Bristol and several participants went on to feature in and support the making of an interactive documentary on the issue. Many also took part in a live arts project co-produced by KWMC and the international In Between Time Festival, ‘Nightwalks with Teenagers’, which received a much sought after 4 star review in The Guardian newspaper.

Teaching staff in all six schools fed back to KWMC that they felt more confident to teach code and to teach using resources and technology that was new to them at the beginning of the year. They also reported having a greater understanding of how technology and computing can be used across the whole curriculum, making links between technology and maths, science, English, environmental education and much more. Teachers were also introduced to digital manufacturing technology which has successfully enabled those who took part to see the local progression routes available to their students. KWMC also reported that many young people progressed from engaging with them in schools to taking part in skills development activities at KWMC out of school time.

The company also fed back to RIO some of the challenges they encountered during the delivery of their first Bridge Challenge Funded project and how they have learnt from them. They said:

“The major challenge for us was communicating effectively with teachers…there are a huge amount of logistics involved in working with a small team across six schools.

“The difficulties this presented led to us building stronger strategic relationships with head teachers and planning further ahead earlier in the year to avoid losing touch before all the work has been delivered. The challenge going forward will be staffing the increased demand for the work but that is a challenge we are more than happy to have.”

Next Steps

KWMC went on to look at delivering bespoke packages with each school across the summer term using digital manufacturing technologies to enhance the learning that already took place. Their Teachers Playday on the subject generated a vast amount of ideas and enthusiasm and KWMC were excited to be developing and delivering this element of the programme in partnership with teachers, who now feel they have enough knowledge and confidence to get more involved.

After reviewing the work they began in 2014 KWMC went on to create an offer for schools in 2015/16 and negotiated with a local partnership, and other interested schools, to confirm the programme for the following year.