Earlier this year, City Hall's Culture Team invited myself and a wider group to discuss and brainstorm around how to improve the exposure of under-engaged London communities to all our city has to offer. To my surprise, only 31% of Londoners feel that they make use of our London's culture, something our Mayor, Sadiq Khan, is desperate to tackle and change.
Of those communities polled, it was the elderly, key workers (NHS, Teachers, Fire Services etc), young BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) and low income communities that felt the least engaged. After a promising discussion, during which we identified the key barriers of each demographic and possible solutions to the disconnect, we left the team with a lot to think about and work through.
Which brings us nicely onto our second get together a few weeks ago; the Culture Team have decided to kick-start this change with an exciting pilot focusing on young people first, the details and vision of which I have shared below!
Setting the scene...
It all started with a few inspirational words from Nii Sackey, Founder of Bigga Fish, a social enterprise for disadvantaged 14 to 17 year olds. When working for young people, he very eloquently described three essential musts for success:
(1) Engagement - quite simply, if young people are not at the heart of a young persons initiative, it will fail! Bringing young people into the discussions early means gaining valuable insights into what they want to see from your programme. Ensure this engagement is maintained and leveraged throughout!
(2) Partnerships - what smaller companies lack in resource, they often make up for in agility and flexibility. Promoting partnerships between resource-heavy institutes and nimble grassroots groups is essential for success!
(3) Diversity - studies have shown that diversity within the city's creative sectors is in fact decreasing and Nii described this as the 'elephant in London's room'. Organizations attract the kinds of people they already have; to diversify you have to actively diversify.
'Culture is the golden thread that runs through our social fabric.' Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London
Max Jennings, Founder of Hoop, a mobile app platform that allows families to simply search and access the 70,000 activities available to them every month in the UK, then took to the podium. He explained that whilst there is an abundance of offers out there for families and young people, these have historically been very difficult to search + access and are not supported by any form of algorithm for the tailoring and personalisation of offers. The result is a demographic of people too tight on time to really commit to searching, and people living by the assumption that everything worth going to must definitely be too busy and/or too expensive.
Launched in 2016 in North London, Hoop has grown aggressively into the go to app for families. It's success lies in its re-thinking of how offers are accessed and presented, boosting visibility into an easy to use tool.
London is a massive playground but it's problem is that given the extreme range of wealth across the city, there is such huge disparity between who benefits from its offering. This gaping need has to be addressed! Mike Clewley, Love London + Cultural Lead Officer
The Culture Team has set themselves the following action points that they will endeavor to base their initiative around:
(1) Connect the Dots - ensuring offerings are packaged and coordinated for ease
(2) Better Together - support and facilitate the bridging together of young people + culture
(3) Champion Positions - get appropriate and relevant champions + representation
(4) Challenge Barriers - all facets of culture are relevant to everyone
(5) Nurture Relationships - facilitate and foster alignment of culture centres with the youth
Our mantra - YOUR museums, galleries, concerts. YOUR culture. YOUR London.
Leveraging TfL's existing Zip Oyster card that provides reduced pay as you go rates for young people across all public transport, City Hall suggests an initiative called Zip London, in collaboration with Hoop. Zip Oyster already has 840,000 registered young people using its services mainly to commute. But by leveraging this existing card and integrating in Hoop's easy to navigate family culture app, can we simply re-market the card as a method of exploring the city and its culture at low prices or for free?
- promote first time visits
- include mixed offers to include evergreen, seasonal and one-off
- normalise arts + culture
- get the right content to the right people
- simplify access to existing cultural concessions
But how do we get to where we want to go?
Messaging + Marketing - unless we actively diversify representation and relevance, this is a non-starter. They aim to: re-market the image of the London community by ensuring sufficient representation; ensure that though this is London-wide that it also focuses on the ground in local Boroughs to maximise relevance to the local community; and that there is themed and translatable core content.
An Outreach Programme - to ensure the right people are being reached with the right content, City Hall will begin actively working with schools, relevant social media communities, on the ground associations and with local Boroughs, in the first instance Barking, Haringey and Wandsworth where statistically engagement is the lowest.
Most kids already have the Zip Card, so the means, so it becomes more an exercise of ensuring this is integrated with strong, consolidated and targeted content. Once live, it also becomes an opportunity to access + analyse London-wide data in a way that allows for informed improvements.
The aim is to launch pilots in October 2018, with a phase II rollout scheduled for Spring 2019.
What was our role?
This time around the 50 person focus group had solid representation from a number of core London institutions and groups including local boroughs, museums, galleries, youth groups + associations. Split into groups we were asked to discuss the following questions, a summary of our answers for which I include below:
(1) What is currently working/not working when promoting London to families?
Currently, poor visibility and consolidation of available offers feeds sometimes unfounded barriers of cost, time and relevance. Social media would help with this, and is a must if tackling young people, but it is in fact a force of both good and bad in this scenario; on one hand it allows for blanket-wide promotion of an initiative which would lead to enhanced engagement, but that kind of scale may take away more local/Borough-wide promotion. Aside from that, representation on behalf of certain facets of culture is limiting who they appear relevant to, e.g. could those organisations with a classical music and/or opera offering market themselves to people other than the white middle-upper classes?
(2) How do we reach the hard to reach with this project?
Better engagement with diverse partners across charities, schools, youth teams, the NHS etc is essential in reaching the many but again, the project has to actively promote and represent diversity if it is to attract these under-engaged demographics. An additional point, though difficult to manage, is how do we balance letting families know about the city-wide many whilst also promoting the local few.
(3) Can we identify areas of focus that this initiative could make to engage more diverse family groups and young people?
Areas included: boosting exposure of local activities geared towards that Borough's demographic; ensuring awareness of and planning around religious and/or non-British holidays/celebrations; translating content for those that don't speak English as a first language; opening up venues to other purposes (e.g. a Synagogue for a film screening) to open up other cultures to each other; appointing Community Ambassadors and key public figures that are respected by young people and who will be listened to.
(4) What should the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) be?
Making informed improvements over time will only be as good as the quality and types of data collected; it is all well and good that via the TfL functionality we will know that young person X has gone to Finchley, but we need to ensure there is some form of check-in functionality too at cultural venues with the card. With that kind of data, you can then begin to see how much of an impact you have made city-wide, by demographic and by age!
(5) Which other activities + partners are missing from this initiative?
We all agreed that those in attendance was a good start when it came to London-wide representation but this needs to be built on to include more Borough-specific groups and those that are more focused on specific demographics. Aside from that, there should be a second layer of formal subscription through which organisations can become official programme ambassadors; branding goes a long way but we appreciate that business is business and so the commercial opportunities need to be clearly presented. Finally, and as mentioned a couple of times already, it is paramount that pop culture figures prominent in the lives of today's youth are leveraged as the face of this initiative.
Zip London will be the first initiative under a newly formed Love London umbrella that aims to launch similar programmes for each of the identified demographics. And I feel excited; with all due respect to City Hall, policies such as these can often be more talk than they are action, but it was promising to see that our feedback in January has helped in driving the first step in engaging these under-represented communities! I wish all the luck to the team in what will be a challenging but fulfilling mission and wait impatiently by my email for my invite to the next stages!