March 31st is not a date that usually carries great significance, but this year, for us, it does. After 10 years, the Southwest Bridge programme we have delivered for Arts Council England has come to an end. One of 10 independent organisations charged with providing strategic support around children and young people, the work we have done in our region and as part of what has become a strong, national network, has continually championed the vital role of arts and culture.

It has been a complex journey, working with a multitude of cultural organisations, schools, multi academy trusts, local authorities, FE, HE, music hubs, creative businesses, early years settings, awarding bodies, artists, policy makers, community groups, healthcare professionals and others. Everyone whose work touches the lives of children and young people and who recognises that art and culture is an intrinsic part of being human.

Often challenging, but always interesting, delivering the Bridge role has given us the great privilege of working with many extraordinary cultural organisations, schools, and individuals in the southwest. Thank you for your energy, openness, vision, and willingness to collaborate.

The past decade has not been easy, but through our collective efforts, we have seen an increasing number of schools engage with arts and cultural delivery and build more sustainable and embedded ways of working. At best, this is exemplified by schools who use Artsmark to shape a vision of curriculum at a strategic level, for example Malmesbury Primary in Bournemouth. Similarly, schools who use the Arts Award to celebrate and frame participation in cultural opportunities, such as Bodmin College in Cornwall. They offer Arts Award as part of after school enrichment for specific groups of students experiencing disadvantage.

Artsmark and Arts Award have ensured arts and cultural opportunities for children and young people exist across all areas of the southwest, including 491 education settings who have undertaken a Artsmark journey.

Much of our best work has been to support, connect and occasionally challenge the very many brilliant individuals and organisations who enable children and young people to experience great art and culture in the South West. It has been a privilege to spend time with so many committed and talented people and confirms how lucky we are to live in a region where culture and creativity flourishes.

Our Bridge work has always focused on support and intervention, but in response to the pandemic we pivoted to practical curation and delivery of more immediate place-based support. Examples include the Let’s Create packs where we worked with 38 partners across 6 localities to distribute over 5,000 packs to families and the Schools For all Seasons project in Cornwall in summer 2022, working with 12 schools, 840 children and 22 artists trained in trauma-informed practice.

Looking forward, Real Ideas continues to champion children and young people’s creativity, but now working through our key areas of practice – arts, making, immersive technology, green and community enterprise – and in the context of the extensive work we do supporting young people to build positive futures, all recognised through digital badges.

Although we are no longer able to offer the strategic support we provided through our Bridge work, we are keen to maintain collaborations and connectivity. Making sure art, cultural and creativity is available for all children and young people has never been more important and we need to continue to work together to make it happen.