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Exploring the Funding Crisis Threatening Grassroots Music

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a young boy learning how to use DJ decks and software
Photo from DJ School

The cost-of-living crisis has put increasing pressure on grassroots music organisations, driving demand for funding to an all-time high. As success rates across the sector reach a historic low, many organisations are now at risk of closure.

Whilst there’s been well publicised fears around the future of classical music this year, the importance of diverse music projects cannot be forgotten. And yet, our research has found that the grassroots projects providing these critical services are under threat. Exacerbated by economic shocks from significant events in recent years post-Brexit and COVID, the cost-of-living crisis is taking its toll on the sustainability of projects nationwide.

“I’m very concerned about the current situation,” says Carol Reid, Programme Director at Youth Music. “Grassroots music projects are working with young people day in, day out. They provide a warm, safe space to hang out, giving them opportunities to express themselves, and get validation when its often missing from other parts of their lives. They help young people to imagine a different future for themselves through music. This is one of the most vital parts of our music ecosystems yet it doesn’t get afforded the same attention as other areas”.

In our Feedback Survey this year, 55% of all respondents reported a fall in donations or income. The Charities Aid Foundation released their annual UK Giving Report in April, which studied the giving behaviour of the UK public in the previous year. They found that 69% reported considering making cuts to cover their bills, including 17% specifically considering cutting their charitable giving. The number of people giving has been steadily decreasing since 2016, from 69% to 59% now.

This fall in income is having an impact on organisations right now. Youth Music funded partner, DJ School UK, recently had to give up their venue due to the financial challenges they’d be facing. “The cost-of-living crisis has destroyed our private income streams to such an extent that we cannot maintain our studio space anymore,” DJ School UK founder, Jim Reiss, told us. “Without our space we will no longer be able to raise any private income through one to one and group sessions. We will no longer be able to raise grant funding or have a space to run our long-running inclusive DJ clubs. We will no longer be able to plan, deliver and evaluate our own projects independently. We will no longer be available in the long term to those children and young people with chaotic lives.”

young boys learn how to use DJ decks
Photo from DJ School

Funding cuts in the sector have led to increased competition for what remains, while donations from the general public have progressively declined. Paired with the rising pressures of a cost-of-living crisis, this can leave grassroots organisations facing the decision of either diversifying their income or closing their doors.


We spoke to Lizzy Ellis, Interim CEO of Youth Music funded partner, Saffron, who found themselves looking at this decision head on.

Founded in 2015, Saffron is a non-profit organisation that seeks to address gender imbalances in the music technology sector through training programmes, as well as a record label and artist and development programme. However, the decrease in funding opportunities, alongside the cost-of-living crisis, left Saffron having to consider its future as an organisation.

“Every single bit of software that we use, our office rent, contractors, things like that. Everything has gone up, which has meant that our overheads have gone up hugely this year,” Lizzy told us. “But it's been important for us to find that balance of not compromising our mission. If we're not financially viable, then we're not here and serving our community. But if we're charging too much for our activities, then our community can't join anyway.”

In response, Saffron begun its #SustainSaffron crowdfunding campaign. Launching a GoFundMe page, Saffron opened up about the struggles they were facing and asked their community for support to see them through the precarious period they were in. It was the first time they had attempted a public fundraiser, and the decision wasn’t an easy one.

“You want to project that everything's fine and ticking along nicely,” Lizzy told us. “We were worried about being honest with people and going, ‘Things are really difficult at the moment and it's difficult to see what's going to be in our future.’ It was very vulnerable to do that. We didn't want to project an image of instability because there was a worry that if people perceived it as unstable, then they would be less likely to give us grants or sponsorships.”

a group of women sit in a semi-circle on chairs, laughing. there are electric cables on the floor as one woman sitting on the floor in front leads the session
Photo from Saffron

Despite these worries, they were able to fundraise over £40,000 over four months and received an outpouring of love through messages of support, demonstrating the impact this organisation has within its community.

Following the fundraiser, Lizzy, along with Saffron founder Laura Lewis-Paul, released a letter addressed to their community to update them on their situation. The process “reinforced the urgency of mobilising the wider music industry towards creating a more inclusive future”. Now, they are actively reaching out to the music industry to get them involved rather than hope they hear of their good work. With Saffron’s expertise in creating equitable spaces in the sector, support from industry partners could help pave the way for a more equal future.

“What we would like is for industry [partners] to work with us rather than doing their own isolated little projects, starting from scratch every single time,” said Lizzy. “It's like, ‘We’re already here and been doing this for eight years. Why don't we work together, pool that knowledge, and work with our community around the world?’”

Unfortunately, Lizzy and Saffron’s experiences are not unique. Our Stakeholder Survey (2022) reported increased costs from wages, utilities and rent, and supplies and equipment for many organisations.

Pie Factory Music’s youth services campaign

A creative youth charity in East Kent, Pie Factory Music, is currently campaigning about Kent County Council’s Family Hubs proposal, which would involve cuts to commissioned youth services in the area. According to Pie Factory, this will “significantly limit, and potentially eradicate, open-access youth work across the county, leaving the vast proportion of young people without sufficient accessible educational and leisure activities outside of school/college.”

They are calling for support from the wider community while the proposal is in its consultation stage before the deadline on September 13th 2023. To get involved, go to Pie Factory Music’s Say No to Cutting Commissioned Youth Services page.

The proposed cuts they are facing are part of a long-term roll back on youth services, nationwide. In 2021, the National Youth Agency along with the YMCA released a joint report, Time’s Running Out, demonstrating the crisis youth services were facing, with 1 in 4 youth centres closing.

The following year, the YMCA released the Devalued: a Decade of Cuts to Youth Services report, which revealed the £1.1 billion in local authority spending cuts on youth services between 2010/11 and 2020/21 in England. This is a real-term expenditure decrease of 74% over the period.

Demand for Youth Music funding

Sadly, Youth Music’s success rates are at an historic low. Last year, less than a quarter of applicants received funding; this year it’s less than one in five.

a graph showing a decrease over time
The Last Five Years: Youth Music’s success rate (£ invested / applied for)

Grassroots projects are facing a funding crisis, and the situation is set to get worse. As funding is diverted to cover basics such as food, shelter and everyday essentials, it means music and creative activity risks being sidelined.

In this year’s Feedback Survey, a lack of income to cover running costs was still an issue for many organisations. “Due to our business aim to balance private income/own fundraising with grants, we are having to move out of our premises due to the drop in private income from the cost-of-living crisis,” one respondent commented. “This means no more of our flagship clubs, fundraising one to ones or studio sessions.”

Guided by feedback, Youth Music launched a financial support and development programme for funded partners in response to the cost-of-living crisis. But those funds can only go so far.

Youth Music’s Programme Director Carol says, “We’re doing all we can here at Youth Music – trying to fundraise more for our grants programmes, offering flexible grants and core costs, and providing learning and support through our Exchanging Notes programme. But ultimately, our support can only go so far. Given that we have to turn down three quarters of all applications, the chances of success with a Youth Music application are much lower than a few years ago. It’s important that people know that and are thinking about their plan B.

She continues “It was great to see Saffron’s crowdfunding success recently. But I completely agree with them that music industry partners should be supporting their work. Grassroots music does so much to diversify the pipeline to industry yet it’s predominantly Lottery funded. The music industry should really be doing more.”

Crowdfunding advice

If you’re considering a crowdfunding campaign to support your organisation, as part of our Exchanging Notes: Learning & Development Programme, Youth Music An Introduction to Crowdfunder UK. With advice from both Crowdfunder UK and funded partner Jack Drum Arts. In the video, you can see the recorded session which covered areas including crowdfunding concepts, how to develop a strategy and how to plan your campaign.

Along with this, Lizzy has some steps to consider when pursuing a crowdfunding campaign:

  • Reach out to others before going live: “Talk to lots of people first. Whether that's stakeholders, directors or peers that are running similar organisations. Lean on people for insight and support because there are people out there that will support you.”
  • Have a structure to ensure momentum: “Prepare yourself for a bit of an emotional roller coaster. There'll be a big rush of donations at the start and then it will completely stagnate. Be prepared to continue putting in the work for the duration of the fundraiser and have a real structural plan for how you're going to keep momentum.”
  • Have a plan for you next steps: “Plan for what you're gonna do afterwards, whether you reach your target or not. Be as transparent as possible, or as transparent as feels reasonable, with your community so that they can be on the journey with you.”
  • And importantly: “Keep updating your budget spreadsheets every day.”

We want to thank our funders, partners and sponsors for their crucial support this year. We know exactly where more help is needed, but we can’t do it alone. We all need to step up to make sure every young person can make, learn and earn in music. Together, we can ensure the future of music is more creative, more diverse and more inclusive.