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Sue Harrison

Diversity is something to celebrate

9:00, 4th April 2017

Something must be going right with the system of music hubs in the United Kingdom, because within four years of us being established in 2012, the government announced a £300m funding commitment for hubs up and down the country. The devil, as ever, will be in the detail, but if the funding announcement made in November 2016 is a sign of confidence in what we, MyHub in Manchester, and our contemporaries in other parts of the country do, then we’ll take it.

Perhaps recognition of the benefit of music hubs, which cater for the music education of children and young people from very early childhood to school leavers, is recognition of the flexibility in which we are able to respond to the dynamics and needs of the communities around us. No town or city is the same and nor, therefore, is any one music hub. MyHub is responsive because it needs to be, especially in an international city that is constantly changing around us.

IMG_6208_SAccording to the 2011 census, Manchester’s reputation as a place of cultural diversity is established on fact, with large communities of South Asian and African multi-generational families living alongside the majority white British population and families of European and Asian origin. Although those figures included all districts of Greater Manchester, the highest density of these diverse communities is in the city of Manchester itself, the area that MyHub serves. So, it feels as if our mission has been made clear for us. The inescapable truth is that we’re a historically, permanently and fantastically rich society that mixes wildly varying histories and cultures with each other and we have to respond to that.

It is actually quite a grand ambition to serve as many communities as you can, all at once, and we always knew it wouldn’t be easy, which is why MyHub approached creative music charity Brighter Sound and prestigious, chamber orchestra Manchester Camerata to deliver ‘My Music, My Manchester’. Going ahead in October 2016, it was a process designed to engage young people from different cultures who would not normally participate in city centre-based projects, but all had one thing in common – they lived side-by-side in Manchester. What was most exciting for us was that participants would likely have a musical heritage quite distinct from each other, but musical aspirations that could be cultivated to reflect the new ‘sound of our society’ by virtue of that diversity.

IMG_6349_SThe range of partners we called on for support and involvement grew to include Music Action International, Royal Northern College of Music, BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Z-arts and One Education Music, our schools delivery partner, and it is perhaps this largely unprecedented involvement and buy-in from many of the city’s most respected musical organisations that espouses the virtues of open, innovative and responsive music hubs. It is something we know we can do now having tested the possibilities and although it’s certainly challenging to achieve, the people who benefit are the children and young people involved.

To make ‘My Music, My Manchester’ happen in practice, San Fransisco-based, ‘Ethio-American’ musician and activist, Meklit Hadero also came to Manchester as artistic director, with her innate ability of being able to raise young people’s artistic aspirations. She not only enhanced a sense of outward-looking internationalism in the heart of the city, but it was her aptitude for developing a framework that the young artists – from a beat boxer to a tabla player – could work within, that created a performance of genuine, high quality.

IMG_6429_SThe quite remarkable Manchester ‘Song Cycle’ was performed at the end of a week-long residency by young, modern Mancunians alongside professional string players from the BBC Philharmonic and Manchester Camerata. It revealed itself, as we had hoped, as an expression of their shared lives in this city, performed at the home of the BBC Philharmonic itself. From a young Afghan refugee to a second generation British-Zimbabwean performer, the project went far beyond claims of achieving diverse representation among participants (47% female, 53% male and 44% White British, 56% BAME) and nearly half were first time participants. The hub model is there to be interpreted and expanded upon. In this instance it led young people, who genuinely reflect the community we’re established to support, to spend time with professional musicians and rehearse and perform in venues that are a long way from school music rooms. The cross-sector approach of delivering a project through partnership working also took all of us, our facilitators and producers, into uncharted territory, providing new perspectives and opportunities for professional development.

This project has set a high bar for us in the future, but as the music and education worlds consider what the future holds in relation to high-profile funding announcements like that made late last year, our priority remains the young people we’ve met and ensuring they are supported to work on their music further in supportive, flexible and innovative environments.

Sue Harrison is chair of MyHub (Manchester Music)

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