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Welcoming young people

Attracting young people – the importance of feeling welcome

If you find it a challenge to attract young people to your activities, Making Music has advice to help, based on their research with young people and music groups*. These tips and insights were shared by Making Music at a seminar hosted by Tŷ Cerdd last weekend at their base in Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff. The advice is just as applicable to music education hubs, music service groups and centres, community music and music therapy organisations as it is to voluntary groups.

One of the most important takeaways for me, and what I’ve focused on here, is the welcome. Whether you’re attracting young people to an ‘intervention’ style activity, or an open access group/centre, it’s important to look at the welcome and hospitality, before you think about recruitment or tactical marketing.

This can be particularly important for vulnerable or disengaged young people: a youth justice worker once told me that hospitality and welcome was one of the most important criteria for their theory of change.

What was the research about?

Making Music had a range of evidence to show that there tends to be a drop-off in young people’s participation in music groups after the age of 15 – and many don’t rediscover music making, if at all, until they’re over 35. Xenia Davis, Youth Engagement Manager (and an ex-youth worker) set out to find out what the barriers were and how to address them, surveying more than 800 15-35-year-olds, and nearly 700 music groups. She found that:

  • the main reasons for not attending were lack of time, not feeling good enough, lacking confidence, and cost.
  • the main recommendations young people gave for what groups could do to improve and retain their members were: be friendly / sociable / inclusive; be flexible; publicise better; have engaging repertoire; make participation affordable.

She then delved deeper into the conversations and research, to come up with their recommendations and resources.

How are new people welcomed to your group?

How comfortable and welcome you make people feel can make or break your chances of seeing them again. Make sure existing members (or participants) are primed to be welcoming. This is really important for young people, who can be easily shamed or made to feel uncomfortable. Talk with your group about what it means to be welcoming. Ask them what would have made them feel comfortable, and that may mean little things like eye contact, using someone’s name, or having a conversation starter in mind.

Setting up a buddy system where a current member teams up with a new member can help too.

Providing an informal ‘getting to know you’ or taster session is one you’ll be familiar with. Making Music suggest their members that they hold an open evening where there’s no music activity, but people can meet other members, have drinks/cake/pizza, and you can collect email details, telephone numbers etc. Following up with a personal ‘hello and welcome’ message which gradually leads up to the first proper rehearsal or session helps too.  You could also arrange a social aspect after the first session – again, drinks/cake/pizza or go to the pub if people are old enough.

The power of a person’s name

Using someone’s name can make them feel special and welcome. According to Dale Carnegie, author of How to win friends and influence people, “A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Make sure your members are primed to try to remember new members’ names.

But people are also sensitive about names. Make sure members understand that a person’s name isn’t ‘strange’, or difficult to pronounce because it’s in a language you don’t know, it’s just their name.

A good way of getting over these barriers is to use a name game warm-up activity. You could get existing members to wear name badges too for the first few weeks of a term or programme. Some groups have run ‘design your own name badge’ competitions ahead of the first session back, with prizes for the most creative.

It can also help if you have a noticeboard with photos of each member and their name underneath.

Encourage friendships to flourish

You could try to arrange some social events which don’t seem like a ‘have to’ but a ‘want to’ get together. It sounds obvious but ask people what they want to do. A meal out, going to a concert/gig, going to another group’s concert, all help to establish friendships and bonds.

Some members might want to set up a Facebook group or use Instagram, Snapchat or WhatsApp to keep in touch and make arrangements to meet up.

Flexible rehearsals/sessions and building confidence

Lack of time is a common reason for not attending. Could you be more flexible about rehearsals/sessions? Does every member need to be at every one? What if someone misses a rehearsal? Do you have a system in place where their ‘buddy’ records or videos the rehearsal/session and shares it afterwards?

Using different methods to share information (such as recordings, videos, buddies) can also help people with dyslexia or other additional needs or different learning preferences.

Keep it affordable

Is your concession rate affordable? Are there concession rates apart from ‘student rates’, for example, for the unwaged, those on low income, the unemployed? Can members pay their fees in instalments (eg, monthly as opposed to annually)? And how do you decide who is paying what rate without stigmatising?

Finally, getting the foundations right – your website

Your website in a sense, is the first part of the ‘welcome’. Make sure the information is crystal clear, and answers all possible questions a new person would ask. And of course, it needs to be welcoming and appealing, conveying ‘what’s in it for them’ ie the benefits they’ll gain from taking part. It may sound obvious, but it’s easy to miss some of these, particularly if you’ve been mainly focusing on existing members:

  • when do you rehearse/when are sessions
  • where
  • how much does it cost
  • what kind of music
  • what standard new members need to be
  • do they have to attend every week
  • do you have to take part in performances, where/when are they?

And if it isn’t already easy to navigate on mobile phones, ask your web designer to optimise it for mobile.

This is very much a starting point. If you’re already experienced in working with young people or you’re interested in taking things further, I’ve listed some further resources below.

Further links and resources

Making Music ‘Youth engagement resources’ – includes the research and resources ( although some are for members only, a number are open to all).

Youth Music’s recent Sound of the next generation report gives some valuable insights into young people’s views and experiences of music, based on interviews with 1,000 young people

Reaching out to young people, by the Audience Agency

VIDEO Youth Voice – giving young people a say

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