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Arts Impact Fund investment

The new music education venture used its loan to create a contemporary music institute at the heart of the Black Country.


Region: West Midlands
Discipline: Music
Investment size: £300,000

Through the Arts Impact Fund, we invest for financial, social and artistic return. In our round of investments made in the summer 2018, we were excited to see two higher education providers join our portfolio – Central School of Ballet and Resonance. Although not typical ‘cultural producers’, academic institutions – along with sector support organisations and workspace providers – are crucial for nurturing creative talent and sustaining the vibrancy of the creative sector and are therefore a key part of the cultural infrastructure in England. Both Central School of Ballet and Resonance are pioneers in this respect and have made it their mission to not only train the next generation of artists and creative professionals but also to push higher education in the arts forward through innovative curricula and commitment to inclusivity and community engagement.

Resonance is a new venture in music education and community music, led by charity BICMP, at the centre of which is a ground-breaking contemporary music institute. Planned to open in October 2020, the institute will have its own campus (and separate accommodation) at the heart of the Black Country, offering high-quality, industry-led higher education for up to 200 students every year across five strands – contemporary music performance, education, composition, entrepreneurship and production.

Resonance intends to address the technical and soft skills shortages of current graduates entering the industry and offer a holistic curriculum that equips students with the skills and aptitudes to build a sustainable career in music. Working closely with Manchester Metropolitan University as an accreditation partner, the charity has developed an innovative undergraduate degree that would provide apprenticeship-style vocational training as well as support students’ all-round personal and professional development. Besides feeding into the conception and curriculum design of the new degree, music industry professionals and leading sector companies will also be closely engaged in the writing of the syllabus, course delivery and assessment, embedding meaningful industry links in all aspects of the education process. They will also form a strategic advisory group, ensuring Resonance remains at the forefront of music education nationally.

"Resonance will celebrate the Black Country’s proud musical heritage and offer a meaningful alternative to oversubscribed conservatoires and for-profit private higher education providers."

After careful consideration, management decided to base Resonance in Cable Plaza, a disused office building in the Brierley Hill Waterfront, a designated Economic Regeneration Zone and one of the 10% most deprived nationally in terms of education, skills and training. The charity’s ambition is that, in addition to its impact on music higher education, the new institute will help to revive the neighbourhood by encouraging culture-led regeneration. To this end, it places a strong emphasis on establishing links with other cultural organisations, local services and businesses in the area, and is committed to turning Resonance into a wider community music hub. Current plans for this include a strategic partnership to house the local music service and community radio at the music institute, as well as complementing the current cultural offer with community music activities, targeting vulnerable or underserved parts of the community.

This is an ambitious project that is several years in the making and would not be possible without the involvement of a number of stakeholders. From the outset, Resonance had the backing of Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council, which helped develop the early stages of the venture and find the right location for the music institute, and continues to play a vital role as an investor. Next, the charity secured significant support from the Black Country Local Enterprise Partnership in the form of a £7.1m grant for the purchase and fit-out of the chosen premises. Arts Impact Fund invested alongside other secured and unsecured loan finance to provide the final piece of the total £9.6m budget. We were able to offer a £300,000 loan – a small but critical part of the project cost which will go towards providing working capital and an opening balance for the charity.

Before approving the investment, the Arts Impact Fund team scrutinised Resonance’s business model. This encompassed not only the provision of degree courses but also a range of professional and short courses, community learning sessions and more commercial activities such as the hire of rehearsal rooms and recording studios. Above all, we wanted to be comfortable that the level of student intake was optimised to provide high quality education without compromising the financial viability of the charity; and that community-focused work to achieve social impact would be proportional to the scale and revenue-generation potential of the organisation. In addition to understanding the risks around student recruitment and reviewing Resonance’s market research and strategy, we sought confirmation that key stakeholders, especially Manchester Metropolitan University as validating partner, are genuinely committed to the initiative, as this will be crucial should the charity encounter any hurdles early on.

As Resonance is still an early stage venture, the period leading up to the start of the new degree course will be critical and we will closely monitor the charity’s progress. Having met Directors Chris Cronin and David Barnard, we were reassured that they could deliver on their vision by their many years’ experience across different parts of the music industry and music education, their strong professional networks and sheer perseverance so far to make Resonance happen.

If successful, Resonance will establish an innovative higher education programme that would benefit both individual students and the music industry more broadly. Resonance will celebrate the Black Country’s proud musical heritage and offer a meaningful alternative to oversubscribed conservatoires and for-profit private higher education providers. At the same time, it will galvanise and add to the local community’s music provision, boosting the economic and cultural regeneration of one of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the UK.