women in front of painting

Bold partnerships drive youth engagement in arts and culture

By Sarah Lanchin 22 August 2019 5 minute read

At NPC, we’ve been working with arts and culture charities and funders to understand what works for engaging young people. The arts landscape is changing, with budget constraints meaning we risk a whole generation of children never experiencing arts at school. Charities and funders must step up.

In this guest blog, Sarah Lanchin, policy adviser for children and young people at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, explores their approach to involving young people in the projects they fund.

It’s the 25th birthday of The National Lottery this year and we have a long history of funding heritage projects with children and young people. Through Young Roots, and more recently Kick the Dust, an ambitious £10 million programme to transform how heritage engages young people aged 11 to 25, we continue to encourage bold partnerships between heritage and youth organisations driving improvements in young people’s engagement with heritage.

Heritage touches all our lives and can mean different things to different people, giving us loads of scope for children and young people to decide what is important to them and what type of heritage project they would like to create. We have funded projects from hip hop to chip shops, to Youtubers and virtual reality. We know from our experience of funding creative and fun projects, that children and young people enjoy heritage and cultural activities and can become strong advocates for the future.

Through our Young Roots and Kick the Dust programmes we know that engagement with young people is so important. Creating the right conditions to enable young people to get involved has led to them taking a lead role in planning and delivering exciting and fulfilling heritage projects. Our cohort of Kick the Dust projects have come up with some great ideas about how to engage young people in meaningful ways.

From the projects we have funded we know that encouraging children and young people to become engaged with heritage can also help to increase learning and understanding of themselves and their wider communities, whilst cultivating an interest in heritage and culture. Young people are more than capable of planning and delivering exciting and engaging heritage projects, but first we need to make sure that they know these opportunities exist and devise effective ways in getting the message out to those beyond the usual suspects. We also need to demystify the notion that heritage and culture are only available for certain parts of society.  One way we did this was through a live chat in which young people shared how to remove barriers to participation.

Heritage is an exciting way for children and young people to learn about their communities and themselves, so that they can take on the task of tackling some of the big issues that we face as a society. I’ve been so encouraged to see young people getting to grips with climate change, re-presenting heritage so that it’s inclusive and reflects the identities of everyone involved; queering and de–colonising collections, and giving voices to those whose stories have been silenced or lost in the passing of time. Young people have explored contemporary culture through the lens of heritage and gained skills for the future whilst doing so.

Involving young people meaningfully with project design and delivery takes time and patience in order to build good relationships and create different ways in which young people can choose to participate. For some young people this will be as collaborators, for others co-production or leadership, and for some it will be as a participant or audience member, and that’s ok. Whatever way in which young people choose to take part it’s important that it’s done with openness about what the limits are, and honesty about how much power and control your organisation is willing to share. Importantly, remember to check who is represented within the project and who is missing.

Having a partnership approach to working with children and young people has worked well in our funded projects. Our Kick the Dust programme has pushed heritage and youth sector organisations to form effective partnerships to deliver large scale activity and change programmes across the UK. In practice this has meant organisations working closely together to share ideas, best practice and learn from one another, creating robust ways to deliver projects. Partnership working is not without its challenges; developing clear working agreements from the offset has proved to be worthwhile. Having contingency in place for when adversity arises is also key, along with clarity about the role in which each partner will play. Our year one report details how Kick The Dust projects have progressed so far.

Our new open programmes provide lots of opportunities to apply for funding to connect children and young people to the heritage of the UK. Our outcomes now include a mandatory requirement to involve a wider range of people, which fits well with involving and engaging young people in cultural and heritage activity. There is also a brand new outcome around creating greater wellbeing.

With any prospective project we look for a well-developed plan that shows a beginning, middle and end – clearly showing the heritage that is being explored and why it’s so important, the outcomes, benefits and impact the project will have for the people involved. It’s important to show how young people will be engaged in the project and what role they will play, and how they have helped to devise and inform the project. Find out more at heritagefund.org.uk/funding.


NPC’s research on how to engage young people in arts and culture is coming out this October, funded by the Mohn Westlake Foundation. 


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