What do you know about parish and town councils?

Alison Reeves, Making Music's Deputy CEO, discusses how parish and town councils in England and Wales can support their local music making activities.

As part of Making Music’s advocacy and lobbying work, we’ve been building our understanding of democratic structures. Following events on government and local authorities, we turned our attention to local councils in October, and hosted an event for members to find out more about their structure and role, and how members can better interact with them to the benefit of their group and their community. 

There are 10,000 parish, town and community councils in England collectively known as ‘local councils’ (700+ in Wales), the first tier of local government. 35 million people in England are represented by over 100,000 elected councillors, with new councils being set up all the time. They receive a small share of council tax to re-invest in their communities, with the largest receiving over £1m and the smallest only a few thousand. No part of the country is obliged to have a local council – about 30% of England does, and 70% of Wales (Scotland and Northern Ireland don’t have local government at this level). 

'35 million people in England are represented by over 100,000 elected councillors, with new councils being set up all the time.'

So how can these councils support music making and events? Their core purpose is to improve the communities they serve, and we all know how music can do that. Some councils are proactive in organising events you could take part in. We heard from Will Austin, town clerk of Bridport, about how they support local events with funding, box office support, practical support (road closures, stewarding), promotion, and how they prioritise the inclusion of local artists. Some have grants to support your activity, such as a council in Lancashire that supported a music group for children with grants and rent-free space. Grants are simple to apply for, if you can demonstrate the impact and reach of your proposal. 

But local councils also make decisions that could affect your groups, so knowing how you can influence them is important. They can support and build the facilities and venues you use, by accessing other funding and loans and including spaces for music in neighbourhood plans. Some councils own and run spaces and parks, and we’ve learned that local councils in Wales are taking over more of the management of these from local authorities. They can develop cultural strategies and include culture in their budgets, as in Bridport, committing to supporting its development. 

At our event we met local councillors, who reminded us that councillors live and work in the communities they serve, so they understand and care about the area and are great allies. They are easy to access through council offices or their websites and you are always welcome at council meetings, so approach them to see how you can work together.

Find out more about applying to be a councillor.

Watch our webinar on understanding and influencing parish and town councils.