What’s happening to Bridge organisations and what does this mean for the cultural learning sector?

17 November 2022

Since 2012 Arts Council England (ACE) has funded a network of 10 organisations across the country to satisfy a specific function. They are co-funded by ACE and the Department for Education at £10 million a year in total.

These organisations work with their local schools, art organisations, museums, libraries, music education hubs, local authorities, Further Education and Higher Education Institutions and many other partners to develop a network of cultural provision. These organisations are typically known as Bridge organisations and are referred to collectively as The Bridge Network.

Bridge organisations focus on the following provision:

  • Supporting the delivery of Local Cultural Education Partnerships (LCEPs) These are collaborations between educational and cultural organisations in an area to offer cultural enrichment opportunities to young people. These opportunities frequently take place in school, but may also occur in the local community. Bridge organisations broker and support these partnerships by acting as connecting tissue between local organisations. 
  • Promoting and supporting schools with Artsmark The Artsmark Award is a creative quality standard for schools and education settings. The Artsmark framework sets out a clear framework that schools need to follow to obtain a high standard of cultural learning. Bridge organisations promote the Artsmark to schools and support them in earning it. As such, they contribute to the improvement of cultural learning in schools at a national scale.
  • Connecting infrastructure More broadly, Bridge organisations provide information, connection and fostering of relationships between education and youth organisations in an area and their local cultural provision. 

Examples of Bridge organisations include Curious Minds in the North West, Arts Connect in the West Midlands and A New Direction in London.

What do the NPO announcements mean for Bridge organisations?

Arts Council England stated in 2018 that, after 2022, Bridge organisations would no longer be funded through future National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) funding rounds to deliver the Bridge work outlined above. In other words, the functionality provided by Bridge organisations would no longer be centrally funded. 

The sector has been concerned about this loss, as it removes a central piece of infrastructure from the cultural learning space. There have been concerns that a  consequence could be increased siloing of schools and arts organisations, reducing young people’s access to high quality cultural learning in their local area. This will inevitably affect young people from marginalised backgrounds the most.  

The latest NPO funding announcements showed substantial regional variation in the fate of Bridge organisations: 

  • Three Bridge organisations, two in the Midlands and one in Yorkshire, have had their funding withdrawn completely
  • Other Bridge organisations have secured funding, but this is not for them to deliver the Bridge function. Instead, this money is for these organisations to deliver their other culture and education work

There is no clear rationale behind this regional variation. There is some suggestion that the infrastructure work provided by Bridge organisations may be relocated to other organisations in the region, with corresponding funding. There is also scope for the Bridge function to continue but in a less formal, prescribed way than has been the case for the last decade. 

What impact will the loss of funding for Bridge organisations have? 

This is the first time since the 1980s that there won’t be a consistent infrastructure to support the robust delivery of cultural learning.  It’s too early to say with certainty what impact the loss of current Bridge functionality will have. But unless there is a coordinated substitution for the role of Bridges, we anticipate that this loss of national infrastructure will remove vital connecting tissue between educational institutions and cultural organisations. The impact could be lower quality of cultural learning in schools. Schools and cultural organisations will also have to absorb some of the services provided by Bridge organisations, putting greater strain on their already stretched budgets.

The CLA will continue to monitor this situation carefully. As part of this mission to capture what has been lost - or gained - please do get in touch with your experiences and reflections in relation to Bridge organisations.