Bristol will become home to a ground-breaking national programme breaking down barriers to musical attainment for young musicians with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) after Bristol Music Trust (BMT) were awarded more than £600,000 over 4 years by the National Foundation for Youth Music.

BMT, the organisation that runs Colston Hall and the award-winning music hub Bristol Plays Music, are setting up the UK’s first National Centre for Inclusive Excellence (NCIE). The centre will help young musicians with SEND develop the artistic and professional skills needed to break into and further their career in the music industry.

As a report by Arts Council England has recently highlighted, disabled people remain significantly underrepresented in the arts – the proportion of disabled employees in major arts organisations has stalled at 4% for several years.

The NCIE will work in partnership with Sage Gateshead, the Barbican Centre, higher education and government bodies to commission research, highlight areas of best practice and develop new, innovative ways of working to promote inclusion and artist development. The centre will also explore the civic role of music and the arts and their impact on individuals, communities and societies.

It will be housed in the new education spaces in the transformed Colston Hall when it reopens in 2020 as one of the most accessible music venues in the country.

A key outcome of this work will see the establishment of three separate programmes that are the focus of the funding from National Foundation for Youth Music. Young musicians will begin to develop training routes and pathways into industry and employment through programmes like the FLOW music making collective which will provide professional mentoring for emerging artists and The National Open Youth Orchestra Training Centre (South West).

The funding is a huge vote of confidence for the Trust who have been receiving national recognition for their work around inclusion.

Louise Mitchell, Chief Executive of Bristol Music Trust, believes that radical steps need to be taken to open up training and employment opportunities for disabled people, “The music industry has a diversity problem. We need to work harder to ensure that those with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities are represented and included at all levels in our sector. Our National Centre for Inclusive Excellence will act as the link between employers and educators that has so far been missing. Inclusion must no longer exist in an education bubble but must have a clear path into the industry itself.”

Matt Griffiths, Chief Executive Officer of the National Foundation for Youth Music said, “This significant national project will open up opportunities for young disabled musicians, who all-too-often face barriers – both to getting involved in music-making and to progressing in their chosen career. The launch of the new National Centre for Inclusive Excellence is exactly the sort of decisive, practical action which is needed to transform the music education sector and the music industry.”

Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees said, “This funding is a very welcome investment into the development of our city’s young and talented musicians. We are committed to developing an exciting cultural offer in Bristol that is inclusive and accessible for all, and the upcoming National Centre for Inclusive Excellence will be a much-needed resource to support musicians with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities.”

The NCIE will offer SEND musicians specialist training, industry mentors and bursaries, and will create opportunities to train and perform with some of Bristol Music Trust’s partners including Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, BBC Sage Gateshead and the Barbican.

About Bristol Music Trust

Flagship music venue Colston Hall is operated by Bristol Music Trust, an independent organisation and registered charity (no. 1140898) created to develop its artistic programme and promote music and music-making in Bristol. It is also home to the Bristol Music Trust’s award-winning music education hub, Bristol Plays Music, currently in operation at Colston Hall and servicing both the city and the South West.

Bristol Music Trust aim to make Colston Hall the standard bearer for special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) music education in the UK. The £48.8 million refurbishment programme is being designed in consultation with specialist inclusion partners to ensure it becomes the most accessible concert venue in the UK; with new, street-level, fully accessible education and performance spaces.

In September 2014, the Bristol Music Trust launched the Thank You for the Music appeal to raise £48.8 million to transform Colston Hall into an international standard concert facility and a National Centre for Entertainment, Education and Enterprise across the arts – music, comedy, theatre, dance and the visual arts. So far, over £40m has been raised, thanks to financial commitments that include £10m from Bristol City Council, £5m from HM Treasury, £10m from Arts Council England (the largest single capital award made by ACE in the South West), and most recently in November 2016, £4.75m from the Heritage Lottery Fund.