Youth Theatre Arts Scotland was established in 2004 following a Scottish Arts Council review and consultation with the sector, which identified the need for “a network of linked organisations to provide momentum and focus for the youth theatre sector”.
In 2015, YTAS undertook a national mapping exercise to ascertain the improvements made over the last 10 years and the gaps that still persisted. The mapping recorded significant growth, development and diversification in the sector. Of particular note was the increased role that youth theatres now played in tackling many aspects of social disadvantage experienced by young people, including youth theatres focussed on Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) or rurally isolated locations, those specialising in disability, mental health or inclusion work, as well as impacts on individual skills, capacities, confidence and community.
However, the 2015 study also revealed that the geographic spread of youth theatre provision and improvements was not consistent with the spread of the youth population. Scottish local authorities which contained two-fifths of the youth population were now responsible for four-fifths of recorded youth theatre participants. The range, diversity and quality of progression opportunities was also much higher in these areas. This growing disadvantage for young people and their leaders caused us concern, especially as we suspected there may be limited youth arts infrastructure in some regions to address it.
YTAS analysed the regional disadvantages in our 2015 study against a map of our own events since 2004, and this highlighted that regions with groups connected into our network had been accelerating their development and leaving behind less engaged regions . We also recognised that a contributing factor to the widening gap may have been our limited capacity.
Despite the growth of YTAS’s role and network since 2004, we only had a small team in 2015 (3.8FTE) and one core, long-term investor (Creative Scotland). As a result, we had to prioritise delivery of national events to bring the sector together. However, based on the 2015 research, we concluded that we needed a dedicated programme to reach out and work on-the-ground to establish links that would bridge the disadvantage gaps in targeted regions.
Between 2017 and 2020, we carried out focussed regional development activity to address these gaps in Scotland’s youth theatre network by establishing new (and strengthening existing) regional creative and educational partnerships.
What was our focus?
Funding from the Robertson Trust from 2016 to 2019 enabled us to employ a part-time Engagement Manager onto our team with a specific ‘regional development’ focus. We concentrated on three clear outcomes and beneficiary groups, recording the direct and developmental impact of our work.
- Young people from targeted regions in Scotland have more opportunities to develop their skills and capacity through youth theatre activity.
- Youth theatre groups from targeted regions in Scotland have clearer pathways to progress their ambitions.
- Youth theatre leaders from targeted regions in Scotland feel less isolated in delivering their local activity.
What was the outcome?
Here are the headline stats relating to this work to date…
- We worked in 12 targeted regions: Angus, Argyll and Bute, Clackmannanshire, Dumfries and Galloway, Inverclyde, Midlothian, North Ayrshire, North Lanarkshire, Scottish Borders, South Ayrshire, South Lanarkshire and Western Isles.
- We worked directly with 66 youth theatre and community groups, 651 young people and 266 practitioners and youth theatre leaders.
- We worked indirectly with 2,220 young people, engaged by practitioners YTAS trained.
- We established and developed 25 regional partnerships.
- We increased engagement in our events and services from groups and young people who had never accessed our work before or had limited engagement.
The Robertson Trust’s multi-year funding enabled YTAS to deliver direct activity in targeted regions for the first time as well as developing regional capacity. We gained rich insights into the disadvantages experienced by young people in each region and how youth theatre can help to address these. We now know that the regions selected contained a high proportion of the top 15% multiple deprivation postcodes, with particular challenges of ‘access’, ‘income’ and ‘education’. Importantly, the committed role and funding allowed YTAS to apply what we’ve learned along the way, changing both the company and our relationship with the sector.