Katy Wright

Deputy Editor, Classical Music

Q&A: Christopher Roberts

8:00, 7th September 2017

As Benslow Music approaches its 90th year, the charitable trust’s head of music offers an insight into its plans for the future

Tell me about your role.
I’m primarily responsible for programming and marketing. We run about 220 residential music courses every year in a range of genres, including jazz, folk, classical and early music, for all abilities.

How has Benslow developed in recent years?
We’ve recently appointed a new president of the Benslow Music Trust: Judith Weir, the current master of the Queen’s music. We’re currently talking about how she could be involved in our music programme. That’s been one exciting development; another is that we’ve been developing an outreach and engagement programme. The first of our events took place in July in Coalbrookdale, in Shropshire, and we’re currently in conversation about running another in Alvechurch, near Birmingham. We’re looking to run projects across the UK; they will be day workshops primarily, so people will come along and spend a whole day with our tutors, who will take them through a piece of music or direct them in an ensemble.

© Darren Harbar
© Darren Harbar

What’s unique about Benslow Music?
Firstly, I would say it’s the people: the staff members, our tutors and clients. Benslow’s a really welcoming, friendly place. Also, we’re the only organisation in the UK which provides a full calendar programme of events throughout the year. We run concerts alongside our courses from January through to December, and there’s a course in residence every weekend and every weekday, so it’s always very busy for us. Then there’s our setting: we have four acres of beautiful gardens. There’s residential accommodation on site, and we’re only 30 minutes from London. It’s hidden away in Hitchin, so we’re developing initiatives to make ourselves more collaborative with the local area too.

Where do course attendees and audience tend to come from?
We welcome people from the age of 16, but the majority of our clients are older. We also welcome the working professional, who comes to study music for a weekend after a busy week in London. We attract people from across the UK and further afield – we had people coming from Hong Kong for our summer schools this August.

Coalbrooke_03How is it funded?
We don’t receive any public funding, so our courses generate our prime income. We also have an annual membership scheme – members receive a range of benefits, from priority booking to use of our library – and we get quite a lot of donations.

What sorts of challenges is the organisation facing?
Responding to the changing tastes of our clients, and making sure our programme is fresh and unique, with lots of interesting new initiatives. Another main challenge is the upkeep of our campus. We’ve been here since 1952, so some of the buildings do require refurbishment. We’re fundraising to do that work, and are looking forward to our 90th anniversary year, which is in 2019.

What are your plans for Benslow Music?
We have a maximum capacity of 50 on our Hitchin campus; as we reach that, the idea is to take more activity off our site through our outreach programme. I’m passionate about developing that, and putting up new buildings here on our campus.
We’re looking to construct a new library building: we have quite an extensive music library here, which contains parts, scores and academic books. We’re also planning a new building for our instrument loan scheme, which we run alongside our courses. It’s a separate charity to Benslow Music, which loans high quality instruments to under 25s. That’s happening fairly soon. But 2019 will be a big year for us, so there will be lots of events to watch out for.


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