Taking on the progression challenge – presentations and pledges


In November City of Dreams brought together arts, culture and heritage organisations to discuss how we can best support children and young people’s progression over the next decade.

Here we share some of the presentations, films and ideas shared at the event, alongside examples of pledges made by our guests to improve future progression opportunities for under25s.

More than 30 organisations attended the seminar, hosted by Sage Gateshead on November 27th. These ranged from large cultural and heritage institutions, to statutory providers of creative activities, to youth sector partners, education services and independent arts organisations.  “It’s not often that we get the chance to come together and talk in this open and honest way”, commented an attendee from a cultural venue in Newcastle. “There’s so much good stuff happening”, said a colleague from a statutory education provider, “it’s so useful to hear what everyone is doing”.

“I’m inspired to do more and better”, added the learning director of a local science and heritage charity. And what was it that inspired them so much?

Read the full blog post.


This event was not a lecture. Although there was a lot of talking, by a lot of passionate people, we resisted the temptation to wheel in a speaker from a research institution. Not did we hire a national expert to regale our delegates with best practice stories. That is something for another time and place. (Keep an eye out for news about an event along those lines we’re running with the North East Culture Partnership early in 2019.)

Instead, our progression seminar was a space for stimulating new thinking. For considering the challenges that stand in the way of children and young people’s progression, as artists, creators and scientists. Yes. But also as human beings, facing the complex social barriers that shape the experience of growing up in one of the most economically disadvantaged areas of twenty-first century Britain.

In exploring the tools we might use to tackle those challenges we draw on learning from those who have embedded their in the local context. The seminar was a platform to share insights from City of Dreams extensive conversations with 1000 children and young people, and to reveal the thinking behind innovations in service modelling and practice at New Writing North, Skimstone Arts and Sage Gateshead.

We focussed our discussions on what we need to do to deal with an increasingly tough social context for this work, and on the need to consider person-centred agency-based progression models.


Attendees watched films, listened to speakers, drew graphs and maps, selected implements to use from a virtual toolbox, and made pledges…yes…pledges. Even where these might mean organisational change, colleagues made commitments to action to improve, increase, and grow progression opportunities in the future.

In 2017-2018 a collection of just 10 cultural venues in NewcastleGateshead provided over half-a-million opportunities for someone under 25 to take part in a learning activity. Looking at our newly established partnership of 51 organisations, City of Dreams estimates that there will be nearly 1million similar opportunities in 2019.

The cultural sector has the potential to reach further and achieve more, to help 1000s of children and young people progress to successful personal, artistic and career outcomes. This seminar was a practical discussion about, how instigated by stories from pioneers in our own backyard

Here we share the presentations, films and documents that our speakers offered seminar attendees. We hope they will inspire more new thinking, more discussion, and more pledges for action.

City of Dreams presented a summary context of the social challenges faced by children and young people growing up in NewcastleGatseshead, alongside key findings from our 2018 Big Culture Conversation and a review of the barriers to engagement young people have identified for themlseves.

This offered  “food for thought” about the types of activity young people learn most from, patterns of social division between those who benefit most and those who benefit least, and changes cultural organisations might need to make in the future.

Read the City of Dreams progression seminar presentation here.

New Writing North presented the story of their work with young people across NewcastleGateshead, focussing on the experience of their Young Writer’s City programme which has sought to work “longer and more deeply” in settings in the west of Newcastle. They explained the way this has enabled more enduring and life-changing outcomes for participants, as well as some high quality work like this fil m:

They went on to share important developments in organisational models of delivery, and the process New Writing North have been through to create a “human centred” approach to working with young people rather than a programme, or funding, led model. This is summarised in their insightful Design-Principles document.

Skimstone Arts presented their innovations in shared their experience of working with young artists in Collectives, and focussing strongly on their agency and choice in programme design and delivery. The stories generated by putting young people in the driving seat of their own progression were captured in this film:

Power through Progression from Claire Webster Saaremets on Vimeo.

As with all presenters and partners at the seminar, Skimstone were willing to share practical information about their approach that other organisations might want to borrow from, including their guiding Ethic of Practice and Space document.

Sage Gateshead presented and overview of the work they do to support progression of young people across their music and participation programmes, this included a summary of their work on Creative Apprenticeships and an open offer from Pat Blyth (lead on apprenticeships) to talk to interested parties about ways to support apprenticeships in the future. Read the presentation here: Sage Gateshead presentation.

Every organisation attending the event made a pledge of action. There are too many progression seminar pledges_edited blurredto add them all to this blog. Here are a selection:

  • “develop a peer guidance project to support greater youth voice in our venue”

  • “convert our business model from time-limited projects to ongoing ‘human centred’ approach to programmes”

  • “pilot a new share producing apprenticeship with other arts organisations”

  • “share young people’s experiences of involvement in governance”

  • “create new spaces in our programme for young people to visit and experiment with forms at art galleries”

  • “make sure City of Dreams ideas are part of the Child Friendly City Initiative in Newcastle”

  • “bridge the gap between industry, heritage and cultural sectors with new programmes”

  • “change how we use our reception and workshop space to make it ‘owned’ by young people”

Follow City of Dreams on twitter or stay tunes to these blog pages for information on our plans and actions to improve young people’s progression.

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