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Following the closure of the Bridge network earlier this year, and an unsuccessful bid for ACE funding, Nick Owen of The Mighty Creatives still thinks there’s life after funding loss.

Party with people on stage and balloons
TMC's youth board members celebrating Mighty Memories in March 2023

Electra Films & Photography

When I started working at The Mighty Creatives (TMC) in 2016, people used to ask me: “What is The Mighty Creatives?” Swiftly followed by: “What's an Arts Council Bridge Organisation when it's at home?” 

And that would generate more questions along the lines of: “What does being an arts infrastructure organisation mean? Why don't you just give the money directly to the organisations delivering the arts and cut out the middlemen?”

Before TMC, I asked the same questions myself. The purpose of the Bridge organisation network seemed vague, but it brought together an array of organisations from cultural heavyweights to new kids on the block who had spent over a decade cutting their teeth in the Creative Partnerships movement. 

We were all bound with one common vision: to improve the lives of children and young people by connecting them to their local cultural education offers.

Unconstrained and unshackled

With the conclusion of the Bridge network earlier this year, and an unsuccessful application to join ACE’s National Portfolio for 2023-26, TMC is no longer a Bridge organisation and no longer part of a national infrastructure network. 

It is, however, still committed to delivering on its core purpose, established over 14 years ago, to transform the lives of children and young people through the power of arts and culture.

We are now free to determine our identity and place in the world unconstrained by a national arts funding policy. As a freestanding independent charity, we now have the challenge and opportunity to strike out on our own and structure our business growth cycle, unshackled to a timetable set by a national funder.

It’s like being a teenager whose parents have decided it is time they left home, waving them off with a battered suitcase, a handful of cash and some YouTube videos on how to keep resilient in these times of economic stress.

Recipients of TMC's Youth Empowerment Fund. Photo: Gavin Joynt


Fortunately, this teenager had spotted the signs some years before and had made significant preparations towards that first night in our own flat. We had diversified our income base by developing new services like our core creative mentoring service, looking beyond our historical base of the East Midlands to take up national and international opportunities. We set up campaigns to spread the word about our achievements and raised useful amounts of unrestricted income. 

This diversification positioned us so we were ready, organisationally, for that first night on our own, working out how to turn the heating on and every unfamiliar creak sending fear down our spines.

Organisationally ready we may have been but, as individuals, not necessarily ready for that big unilateral farewell. We had built a substantial staff team, several of whom had lived through previous NPO decision challenges and changes of national arts education policy. They held on to the belief that what we were doing was important to young people, their teachers, to artists and all who believe arts and culture are vital to a young person’s upbringing.

While we had to make 10 people redundant, we were proud of what our dedicated team had achieved as a Bridge organisation. We have since rebuilt a team relatively quickly, working with new partners in local authorities and virtual schools across the Midlands. And last month, we were delighted to be named winner in the Best Service Delivery Innovation category at the Third Sector Awards 2023.

Achieving independence

Our partners value the power arts, culture and creativity have on children and young people. Many in our Mighty Employers network recognise creativity - per se - is an invaluable asset in finding and keeping meaningful employment. There is demand for our work across the UK and we are exploring possible international support and testing whether we might have a role in Europe.

But we’re not taking these developments for granted and we’ll learn lessons from the past few years as we continue our journey. We’ll remember that public funding can be subject to political whims and fashions; and while young people’s mental health might be the current concern for funders, it may not be in five-years’ time. We’ll ask what new challenges they might face and how we will adapt to ensure our services remain meaningful and life-changing for them.

We’ll remember not to place all our eggs in one funding basket and that delivering our vision must be open to both what is possible and what might seem completely bonkers. We’ll remember to keep our strategy constant but our tactics flexible. And, in a few years’ time, hopefully, we’ll remember that leaving home was one of the best experiences of our lives. 

We’ll look back on that first night in our own flat fondly, realising how much we’ve grown, how much we’ve achieved and how many young people we’ve helped to embark on their own journeys into adulthood. And while we’ll be eternally grateful for the support and guidance of our parents while we lived under their roof, we’ll now have an independent family of own who continue to deliver our vision of transforming the worlds of children and young people through the power of their own arts, culture and irrepressible creativity.

Nick Owen is CEO and The Mighty Creatives and a Visiting Professor at the University of Huddersfield.

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