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Is the Cost-Of-Living Crisis Threatening the Future of Grassroots Music Projects?

Is the cost-of-living crisis threatening the future of grassroots music projects?

The cost-of-living crisis could have a significant impact on grassroots music, according to new insights from Youth Music’s funded partners. As 88% of projects report concerns about the impact on children and young people, the charity announces a financial support and development programme to support the sector.

Reported to have begun in the UK in late 2021, the cost-of-living crisis refers to the fall in real disposable incomes.

In the past year, interest rates have risen to the highest they’ve been in 40 years. Many have been struggling to stay afloat as salary increases fail to keep up with rising costs of household food and energy bills.

It’s another knock to the stability of charities and not-for-profit organisations after COVID-19, compounded by issues such as financial instability and poor mental health.

“I think people were already stretched and tired. And recovering from the anxiety of the last round of challenge. And then to have this on top. I think it's just really pushing people to the limits,” Steph Dickinson, Managing Director of Pie Factory Music, said

two girls play guitar in a school room
Photo from Bolton Impact Trust

Children facing challenges

In this year’s Youth Music stakeholder survey (July 2022), 71% of respondents said that their biggest concern has been the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on the children and young people they work with. Safeguarding issues have been raised around children being hungry, and families have been under extreme stress, with many being driven to using food banks on a regular basis.

“We have some families that are eating cold food so that they don't have to use [the oven] so that they can put heating on. Lots of people are not using heating,” Jo Davies, CEO of WILD Young Parents, said.

Drum Works Managing Director, Jenny Beer, noted more families joining a reduced rate scheme for their drumming workshops. “We do a reduced rate for parents that can afford to contribute a bit but not pay the full amount. We’ve noticed more people needing to take that offer up...There’s definitely an issue about affordability.

"We've seen an increase in young people wanting to be here outside of session times,” Steph Dickinson told us. “I think that's a mixture of them just wanting more support, but also having somewhere that's warm to be and where they don't have to worry about having the heating on at home, to be honest.”

It is often the case that local grassroots projects offer so much more to the community than just music. They can also be safe spaces. Hamzah, a participant in a project run by a Youth Music funded partner in Oxford, said that “if it wasn’t for In-Spire [Sounds], I probably wouldn’t be breathing right now. This project has been instrumental in me wanting to keep living.”

a group of women make instruments with babies around a table
Photo from WILD Young Parents

Mental health

As a consequence of the cost-of-living crisis hitting straight after the pandemic, there has been a huge impact on mental health across the UK. “I think for young people, it's a very uncertain future. And they're feeling that, so their mental health is suffering,” Jo Davies observed.

“We're continuing to see a high level of crises in mental ill health. One in six of our young mums that come through our front door, when they first meet us, have already tried to take their own life,” she revealed.

Employees and volunteers are experiencing the strain, too. “Staff are feeling the anxiety around their own finances, their own security, their own jobs, and also having to support young people who are feeling anxious and stressed about it. It's kind of that double whammy of personal and professional anxiety,” Steph Dickinson said. “We're definitely seeing higher levels of general stress and anxiety in pretty much every session we run.

“I don't think anyone has properly had time to heal from the pandemic. And we're thrown into the next season of another crisis…If this is carrying on for another however many years how, how will people weather that?” Steph voiced.

a young boy plays the drums
Photo from Steelworks

Projects under pressure

“It feels like the cost-of-living crisis is one thing on top of many other things,” Jennie Cashman Wilson, CEO of Youth Music funded partner, Abram Wilson, told us.

Organisational costs are increasing, with some funded partners stating that they have concerns around heating their office space and are therefore having to avoid using it. However, one of the main issues is the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on staff.

“It’s impacting on our staff's capacity to manage the need out there,” Jo Davies commented.

“We are finding that not only are we trying to deal with more need, but also the urgent cost of living stuff is getting in the way of our other work. When you're trying to do more deeper, meaningful work with families, where we're really looking at child development and attachment…You really can't do that work if someone is hungry, or if they don't know where they're going to live tonight.”

WILD Young Parents provides a whole-family service for young parents and their children; working with families to meet individual needs and create a positive start to family life.

a boy works on a computer next to a teacher
Photo from Jack Drum Arts

Funding and sustainability

One of the key issues that not-for-profits are currently facing is the funding landscape. In the pandemic, organisations including Youth Music launched emergency funding to aid the financial security of their funded projects. However, due to the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, the critical need for funding has once again rocketed.

“The pressure that funders felt during the pandemic is going to magnify… It's going to become even more restrictive - trust and foundation fundraising - which is the bulk of our income,” Jennie Cashman Wilson shared.

Abram Wilson’s Future Sound programme connects minoritised young people in the UK with professional jazz musicians through school and community workshops. The programme helps them discover their musical identity and shows them that it’s possible to have a career in the music industries. However, the cost-of-living crisis has meant that schools are tightening their purse strings. “Schools are looking at rising energy costs, they're looking at the increasing cost of vital supplies…They've got so much less to play with, and music just becomes even less important,” Jennie said.

“We're going through a period of real change; it feels like everything's been thrown up in the air,” Jenny Beer, Managing Director of Drum Works CIC, commented. “We're really having to think about how we structure things, how we fund things, how we're paying people… My feeling is it's going to get worse before it gets better. I think we're going to be scaling back... We just haven't got the money to keep [the] programme going in the in the format that it is at the moment.”

“We've definitely seen a drop in our engagement on our fundraising campaigns… We're still giving the opportunity for people to donate, but also really understanding that it's not possible for some people,” Steph Dickinson, Managing Director of Pie Factory Music, shared. The creative youth charity relies on public donations as well as funding from organisations such as Youth Music, so they are being cautious about their messaging during this time of hardship.

a group of young people stand in a circle with drums
Photo from Global Grooves

Funding support

The majority of people Youth Music interviewed wanted to give their staff a pay rise. But affordability is a massive issue. Many small charities don’t have regular core income and their reserves decreased in the pandemic.  “We have considered [giving staff a pay rise] but we haven't got the money to do it. So we are doing vouchers but we're only doing £50 a person” one commented. Another said, “We don't necessarily have the infrastructure in place to offer an awful lot of flexibility”.

Youth Music has committed to tackling low pay by encouraging and supporting funded partners to pay the real Living Wage. This provides staff with security and a long-term commitment to a wage that always meets the cost of living every year. Youth Music provides employment opportunities paid at the real Living Wage through internships and the NextGen programme to equalise access to the music industries for young people.

two young people sing into microphones
Photo from Club Soda

Youth Music’s cost-of-living crisis programme

Youth Music is committed to empowering projects and professionals to survive and thrive, and is taking proactive steps to fundraise and support the sector through the cost-of-living crisis. The package of support includes:

  1. Fair and flexible funding

Things change. Youth Music responds flexibly to requests from funded partners to change things like budgets, grant reporting timescales and project outputs.

Youth Music is also uplifting some grants, with a focus on organisations who applied before the onset of the crisis and are continuing project delivery beyond April 2023. This extra funding can be spent on things like staff salaries, freelance fees, overheads, access and wellbeing support. Funded partners must be up to date with their grant requirements to be eligible for this.

Youth Music’s application criteria is fair and flexible too, funding vital core costs alongside project delivery. These budgeting principles encourage people to ensure fair pay, wellbeing and adaptability when they cost their work.

  1. Resilience Programme

Youth Music has expanded its Exchanging Notes learning and development programme with a series of opportunities that support resilience. A mental health and wellbeing helpline, self-awareness and self-care workshops, fundraising and financial resilience, peer support networks, communications and HR support are among the offerings that will be available from March 2023. Projects and professionals can access the programme for free, and more details are on the Youth Music Network.


Youth Music is actively fundraising for this new package of support to help grassroots organisations through the cost-of-living crisis. We’re grateful for our ongoing support from the National Lottery through Arts Council England, and players of People’s Postcode Lottery.