Blog: Why inclusion is in all our interests

Barbara Eifler, Making Music Chief Executive, explains why removing barriers can be in the interest of your music group.

You will have noticed that Making Music has been providing information and support to member groups on access and inclusion.

But perhaps we have not explained exactly why.

Is it because everyone is doing it and we feel the need to jump on the band wagon and be seen to do something when everyone else is?

Well, no. Actually, there are two distinct reasons for this work.

Last year, we reviewed our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion policy, as we do regularly, and looked at the accompanying plan which helps us implement the policy. That new plan covers work we need to do to be more inclusive as an organisation, but also to support members to work on access and inclusion with their own groups.

But why would or should music groups be concerned about access and inclusion? Surely they’ve enough to do organising rehearsals and concerts, programming, sourcing music, engaging music directors, dealing with PRS, Health & Safety, safeguarding, venue contracts, promoting their activities, etc. etc. taking time to consider what is stopping people joining the activity you organise, and working to remove as many of these barriers as you can

Well, the number one issue member groups consistently worry about, year in, year out, is recruitment and retention of participants and audiences. For five years, our Youth Engagement Manager delved into this topic, initially looking at young people specifically.

What she found was that many of the reasons young people weren’t joining or staying in groups were also barriers for people of any age. She ended up guiding groups on removing barriers to taking part – which is what our inclusion and access work is about.

In other words, the answer to your burning question How can I recruit and retain more participants and audiences? is: by taking time to consider what is stopping people joining the activity you organise, and working to remove as many of these barriers as you can.

That makes it sound like you’re not welcoming right now, and we know that you are, or certainly intend to be! But we have learnt at Making Music that despite all being nice people (honest!), we put inadvertent barriers up to those applying to us for jobs, for example; and that we may unintentionally make people who are different to us feel uncomfortable or excluded. Quite a discovery to come to terms with.

But then we understood that this is not about blame. It is about realising your limitations. What is important is that we then act on that realisation, and we can all act on it, whatever our time and resources.

Because the most important thing to change is our attitude: acknowledging there are barriers for others to join our group or attend our events and saying publicly that we are trying our best to include and welcome as many people as possible, but don’t always get it right; asking for feedback and listening.

Inclusion is a large elephant in all our rooms, so the first step is just to make it visible. And then to start taking whatever actions you can, however small. Before you know it, you will notice change.

May that change translate into fewer people leaving your group, new people coming on board and sold-out concerts! That is, after all, what we are trying to help you achieve.