Anna Hoddinott’s funder perspective to the Cultural Inclusion Conference 2021

Anna Hoddinott's funder perspective at the Cultural Inclusion Conference 2021

Anna presents the work John Lyon's Charity has done to progress inclusion in arts and culture and highlights the active steps they have taken to do more in this space. Anna also provides an insight into how inclusive arts organisations have adapted their delivery approach over the last 12 months to respond to social distancing.

The conference on the 26th February 2021, brought together disabled people, parents, disability organisations, schools and arts and culture organisations to explore access to culture and heritage. Given the events of the previous 12 months the conference also explored: How has COVID affected opportunities for the inclusion of disabled young people in arts & culture?

Anna has been with John Lyon’s Charity for thirteen years and has been the Grants & Communications Manager since 2007. Her primary areas of expertise include arts and music projects, projects that provide opportunities for young people with special needs and/or disabilities and childcare initiatives. Anna is also responsible for the Charity’s marketing and communications including the website and Annual Report.

John Lyon’s Charity gives grants to benefit children and young people up to the age of 25 who live in nine boroughs in North and West London: Barnet, Brent, Camden, Ealing, Hammersmith & Fulham, Harrow, Kensington & Chelsea and the

Cities of London and Westminster. The Charity distributes around £10 million in grants each year.

John Lyon’s Charity says about the Cultural Inclusion Manifesto: “The Cultural Inclusion Manifesto is, in part, a fantastic response to a report we commissioned and published in 2016, entitled ‘Perspectives’, and its accompanying conference which brought together music hubs, arts organisations and special schools from our Beneficial Area. ‘Perspectives’ aimed to support effective arts partnerships by sharing knowledge, understanding, and working practices to ensure that children and young people with special educational needs and varied abilities are able to access the best arts opportunities, to enhance their lives and learning. John Lyon’s Charity is committed to supporting high quality, accessible arts provision for disabled young people.”

See the conference programme and all speaker biogs here

An audio description of Anna Hoddinott's presentation

Full transcript

Audio description: A woman with long straight brown hair and wearing dark framed glasses faces the camera. Her head and shoulders are visible and she is wearing a black and white patterned jacket. Behind her is a cream wall with a chest of drawers with objects on top of it. There is a white door with a bag hanging from a hook.


For those of you that don't know John Lyon's Charity, we're a grant maker in North and West London and we've been awarding grants there for 30 years. We have an annual spend of around £12 million and a total spend, since 1991, of in the region of £143 million. So the nine Boroughs that we cover have had significant investment from the charity over that time.

The focus of our funding is on projects that support children and young people. We have a very varied and broad portfolio ranging from funding for youth clubs, arts activities or emotional well-being projects and, crucially for this, projects that support young people with disabilities. Inclusion and access has always been at the heart of what we do and I think that really stems from our ethos which is about opportunity rather than basic need so, we place opportunity for all children to reach their potential at the heart of our grantmaking policies and procedures.

Paul really nicely summarised the way that we work and the approach that we make. We see ourselves as a relational, responsible and reliable funder. Having that 30-year history in one specific area builds up a certain reputation. The way that we fund is we develop long-term relationships with the groups that we fund and the fact that we have a defined area, and a really strong focus on children and young people, helps develop those long-term links.

Also we trust the groups that we fund to do the work they feel is most valuable for their local communities and we listen to what they tell us about their needs, and that is across the board. From really hyper local organisations to organisations that work on more thematic levels. We don't ever take the approach that we know best, it's what do you need to make your work more possible.

This ethos has really informed the way that we responded to the sector during the covid-19 pandemic. We were really proud to be one of the few funders that kept our regular grant-making programmes open throughout, which proved to be a vital lifeline for organisations that really needed long-term stability and that funding pipeline to continue.

We did also offer emergency funding through the London Community Response Fund to respond to those needs that came very rapidly through that period and we pledged to walk along side our grantees and support them through this current crisis. We really do feel like we are a stakeholder in the beneficial area and in the sectors that we support.

A bit about our work on inclusion so far, from a grant-making perspective, I did a bit of number crunching just before this, and even though we do pride ourselves on trying to be inclusive and working, funding projects that support young people with disabilities to engage with arts, the spend on that kind of work within the total of the last 5-years is not that impressive. So we want to do more. To give you a bit of an understanding we've given about £7 million for arts projects since 2017 and only about £1 million on specific accessibility projects, so we know we can do more, so why are we not funding more?

This has been a question was have always asked ourselves and we wanted to know what we could do to try and encourage more applications, so through conversations with existing beneficiaries, through our own observations and our grant-making practice, we did notice a sort of disconnect between the Arts sector and special schools. And we know a lot of this work happens, and we also noticed huge variances in both the quantity and quality of activities that are on offer for young people with SEND.

So what can we do about it, so back in 2016 we commissioned one of our advisors, Jean Carter, to do a piece of work to understand the sector more, to talk to everybody involved, so Arts organisations, special schools, other funders, music services to really understand why is there not more arts activity available and what are the barriers to greater engagement? The resulting perspectives document brought together all these points of view and attempted to identify common themes and where solutions could be found.

We did a follow-up to this a couple of years later called Change of Perspectives and continued this conversation and this resulted in us drawing up a call to action which we called Stand up for SEND. The Stand up for SEND agenda brings together everything we've learnt from the conversations that we had with all those involved in cultural inclusion and I think what we wanted to do was to challenge the sector to do more collaboratively, particularly our colleagues in the funding world, to ensure that all opportunities are the best that they can be.

There are five key points in the Stand up for SEND call to action and that was created in very early 2020. One of the reasons we haven't been able to promote this as much as we wanted to is obviously, we got curtailed by a global pandemic. But we really stand by these and I think they are more relevant than ever since the pandemic, so the first thing:

Accept the cost. Projects with SEND children will be more expensive and this is only been exacerbated by the current Covid-19 situation, and I know that some of you have already mentioned funding and thinking holistically around all the different costs that would be involved in really making inclusive arts practice and inclusive arts activities possible.

We also know that there are going to be limits on outputs of funded projects the numbers of participants will go down because of social distancing, bubbles, etc. But, this doesn't decrease the cost of staffing or the need for PPE etc., so I think accepting the cost is really vital.

Already mentioned this morning is the second one, a whole family approach families need to really understand the value of, and be included in, art activities for SEND.

And I think we all know that lack of arts activities throughout the pandemic for all children and young people have been severely diminished, let alone for those of families with SEND children.

And I think until families truly value the benefits engaging with arts it will never really seen as a priority and I think one of the ways that this could be done is if arts was promoted as a viable career pathway for young people with SEND and I think parents need to be aware of this and the opportunities that this could bring.

And that brings us to the third point which is around building career pathways, there needs to be more progression and career opportunities for young people with SEND and again, employment prospects for young people generally over this period have been decimated and the picture for young people with SEND is even more bleak, so I think there needs to be a refocus on those tangible progression routes to reinforce the value of arts engagement and the projects that we will look to be funding should always consider the what next for participants, particularly those who really take arts under their wing.

Forth, inclusivity starts with you, we've also already spoken this morning about representation. Young people with SEND need to see people like them working in organisations and projects they engage with. More positive role models, prioritising and more diverse workforce.

We've already mentioned all those things this morning. And also recognising that each young person with SEND is different and they have a variety of ways that they need to be supported and organisations need to be aware of that.

And finally: find it, do it, share it. I think opportunities for SEND young people need more visibility from point of access to celebrating their work, so one way we could do this is to ensure that work of SEND young people is celebrated alongside the work of their mainstream peers.

However, I do think there are lots of reasons to be optimistic over the past 12 months. Having gone through a period of almost 12 months of delivery under pandemic, what's very clear is that all organisations that delivered face-to-face activities for young people have all had to rethink their offer since the pandemic began. Some have decided to close their doors, and ride out the storm using furlough to keep their finances alive, and therefore ceasing delivery to young people. Others however have chosen to adapt their delivery models to create new digital content, to see if they could continue to have that positive impact on children and young people.

And as a funder we have been quite privileged to see who is been able to adapt their core offer, who is doing it well, who is continuing to have the biggest impact on children and young people and who could really be described as leading the way and doing that best practice that we as a funder have a role to amplify and share those opportunities. I also think that it's true to say that some of the most inspiring and innovative and impactful changes in delivery models have been for young people with disabilities and particularly within the Arts and cultural sector and this has taken various different forms.

One example is Create Arts who you may know who really quickly innovated to adapt its offer and they were able to continue working with groups of children from special schools, live, taking into account all the various safeguarding needs necessary and they continue to work with them as a group, which had that element of continuity and normality about it.

Flute Theatre, which has already been mentioned, really relies on the sensory experience to engage with young people with autism and so being in the room as part their traditional delivery model is really important, but they have had amazing success in transferring to a digital offer and working with one autistic person at a time, and when you think they have a team of 8 actors creating a piece of theatre for one autistic young person, I think what they've done really well, and that's what I was saying about outputs potentially being lower, fewer young people benefitting, but actually the depth of engagement has been absolutely incredible.

Face Front Inclusive Theatre, they normally tour work in special schools and what they have been able to do is create a really state-of-the-art resource to use the medium of film rather than live drama to get their message across. So these are three different examples of ways that organisations have really adapted their offer had great success doing so.

We've also heard quite regularly that organisations tell us that using a virtual format has really had a positive benefit for participants, often those with disabilities finding it easier to engage with artists on screen rather than in the room.

That's obviously not the case for all young people but certainly that's been an added benefit in this way of working. We also hear that attendance at sessions is higher potentially sometimes than normal, and often parents and families are able to see more of what their children are doing, going back to wanting parents to value what arts can offer and feedback from that opportunity has been really positive.

We do feel that some of the lessons learnt over this period will be continued in day-to-day practice of organisations and I know that a lot of groups are looking to create blended offers for participants, and I think that's such a positive step which would ultimately result in giving schools and young people the choice in the way that they engage with the Arts, and surely that can only serve to boost participation, engagement and enjoyment.

I know we are all looking forward to the day that we can go back to the cinema, the theatre and galleries again and this day is going to come, but the message I want to say is that as funders we understand we do see you, we hear you and we know that families of young people with disabilities are under huge pressure and strain and we want to do more as a funder and to support you with the inclusion agenda, and I think when we emerge from this pandemic we will need the arts as a way of making sense of what happened to us, and we need to ensure all children young people have access to the arts, in particular the arts of the highest quality.

And we need to make sure that schools value the Arts over that catch up curriculum and use the Arts in that catch up curriculum to support them back into the normal way of life, to enjoy the rich tapestry that real life has to offer.

That's all I have to say, thank you.


Matt Overd
Matt Overd
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