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Real Ideas Organisation on working with children and young people in the South West

  • Date: 10 October 2013
  • Artform: All, Combined arts, Dance, Libraries, Literature, Museums, Music, Theatre, Visual arts
  • Area: South West

In April 2012, creative social enterprise Real Ideas Organisation - otherwise known as RIO - became part of a network of 10 'Bridge' organisations as part of our National portfolio. RIO's task as a Bridge is to connect children and young people, schools and communities with the thriving arts and culture sector in the region over three years.

One and half years on, we talked to RIO Co-Director Matt Little about their successes and challenges since becoming a Bridge.

Matt says, 'During our first year as a Bridge, there were massive changes, both in the cultural sector and in the education and children and young people's sector. More schools are becoming independent in some form, eg academies, the role of the Local Authority changing considerably, and the advent of a 'free market' for a range of educational services and provision.

'Our main challenge was getting a proper handle on the changes around the region - finding useful opportunities and connections, building new networks and developing clear communication channels and relationships.

'We wanted to make sure people and organisations understood what we did and how we could help.'

An essential part of RIO's role as a Bridge is developing Arts Award across the South West. Arts Award is the national qualification, managed by Trinity College London in association with Arts Council England, that supports young people's engagement with the arts.

'The Arts Award is a fantastic qualification and tool,' Matt says, 'to get children and young people not just participating in high quality art and culture, but shaping it and producing it for themselves, in their own school or local community.'

RIO has 530 registered centres delivering Arts Award, 30 of which are Arts Council England National portfolio organisations including Artspace Cinderford, Knowle West Media Centre and Everyman Theatre Cheltenham as well as smaller local arts organisations.

Matt says, 'The main stumbling blocks for organisations getting on board were capacity and funding concerns, so we have been working hard to develop a network of organisations to share resourcing, widen opportunities across art forms and find ways to break down any pre-conceived barriers.'  

Encouraging take up of the Gold Arts Award - the highest level of the qualification - was identified as a priority. This year, RIO has enabled 30 young people to achieve the Gold Arts Award, predicting another 180 next year. The award develops young people's creativity, communication, planning, teamwork and leadership skills and is also recognised on the UCAS Tariff (35 points). 

Matt explains: 'We decided to put a real focus on developing opportunities for young people to achieve their Gold Arts Award. Gold Arts Award is now opening the doors for young people to engage with real arts leadership in the South West. It not only supports their personal development and accredits their successes, but enriches the communities they contribute to. 

'By concentrating on the Arts Award in our first year, we have built a really solid foundation and new set of networks amongst schools, cultural organisations and youth projects. We are excited about working with these new networks over the next couple of years and are intrigued to see what will grow from them.'

RIO has also developed a supporter strategy and has driven up numbers in the south west to 68 Arts Award supporters - the most of any English region.

To learn more about RIO and the work it does as an Arts Council England Bridge organisation, see

Find out about RIOs Challenge Fund

Read RIO's research report on cultural education in the South West