INCLUDE: The Great Bowden Recital Trust's inclusive journey

Sue Benson, Managing Trustee of the Great Bowden Recital Trust, tells us about their participation in our INCLUDE programme and their plans to make their groups more accessible and representative of their local community. 

The Great Bowden Recital Trust, a music charity based in South Leicestershire, was set up in response to government cuts in funding for music lessons for A-level students, and in the early days organised professional recitals and used the proceeds to fund a grant programme. We now run five community ensembles and after-school music clubs in four primary schools in Market Harborough, organise concerts, an annual talent competition for young musicians, and concert tours in Europe.  

We use any surplus money that we have to fund grants and we have awarded over £40,000 towards the cost of more than 5,000 singing and instrumental lessons for young people in financial need over the last 20 years. 

Our strapline is ‘Music development, appreciation and participation for all’ and our core belief is that financial or other circumstances should never be a barrier to being able to take part in music making. We keep our membership fees as low as we can, most of our concerts are free, and we don’t have any paid staff other than our musical directors and accompanists. Inclusion has always been important to us.  

However, we are aware that there are some areas where we could be doing more, and this was our motivation for being part of the INCLUDE programme. For the programme, we are focusing on our instrumental groups – Carnival Drums, Flute Choir, and Orchestra – but we will apply what we learn to the Trust as a whole.  

Photo-collage of Great Bowden Recital Trust Orchestra, Carnival Drums, and Flute Choir.

The first stage of the programme involved comparing the demographics of our members with the census data for our local area, the findings of which confirmed what we already suspected: that men and 20–35-year-olds are significantly underrepresented.  

We also spent a couple hours with Making Music’s INCLUDE Project Manager, Elizabeth Palmer, to narrow down our focus when she came out to visit us in October.    

Based on our findings and work with Elizabeth, our action plan covers two main areas: 

Developing a strategy to ensure that all our activities are as inclusive as possible, such as setting up ‘buddy’ schemes in our ensembles to make new members feel welcome, reviewing the accessibility of our communications and website, and asking members if there’s anything we can do to improve access to rehearsals and resources. 

Encouraging more people to get involved in music making by raising the profile of our activities in North Northamptonshire, looking at ways to encourage more men and 20–35-year-olds to get involved in our choirs and ensembles, and promoting the mental health and social benefits of music. 

We have already made some changes to our website to include photographs of our rehearsal venues and more information about accessibility. We have added QR code to printed programmes linking to a text-only digital version that can be used for translation into different languages or by text readers. 

Carnival Drums took part in an event in Kettering for the first time before Christmas and are looking to add more events in Kettering and Corby to their calendar for 2024. We also loved hosting our first inclusion event in February, which was a discussion about how to encourage men to get involved in music making. Also, we have been awarded a grant from a local charity to make a video to celebrate our 20th anniversary and promote the mental health and social benefits of being involved in a music group.  

So, lots to do, but we are excited to see the impact it will have! 

Find out more about the Great Bowden Recital Trust on their website

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