Supporting Families through the North East Family Arts Network

Sallyanne Flemons, Ambassador for the North East Family Arts Network, led the Network through the three-year Network Ambassador programme, funded by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation from 2019-2022.

Sallyanne shares learnings and insights from the programme and its impact on both regional organisations and the families they support.

The cultural sector thrives and all North East families’ lives are enriched by superb arts and culture. This is the ambitious new mission of the North East Family Art Network and one that wouldn’t be in our sights had it not been for a journey triggered by the Family Arts Campaign Ambassador programme. 

Background to the Network

The family voice has always been central to our 10 year-old project. Underpinned by Morris Hargreaves McIntyre’s research about what families need to become culturally confident, our Family Explorers North East Facebook Group, e-newsletter and website were already proving to be effective in getting thousands of families talking about culture, supporting them with practical information to plan their days out and showing them events from places that could be trusted to offer a great family day out. 

But this family audience was self-selecting and we just didn’t have the resources to ensure the people we were supporting were as diverse as possible, even though this was high up on our wishlist.   

With the help of the Ambassador programme and also management support from Heritage Compass, for the last three years we have broadened our focus to support the cultural sector to be truly family friendly and inclusive and ultimately enable more families to experience the fantastic cultural offer we have here in the North East. 

Sadly, our region has the highest rates of poverty and disability in the country and families facing the barriers associated with these characteristics are now our priority. The targets set by the Family Arts Campaign were a motivation for us to begin new relationships with non-arts partners like Poverty Proofing experts Children North East, training providers Digital Pathfinders and disability charities Difference North East and the North East Autism Society.  

With their help, we’ve been offering training to our culture sector partners, starting conversations and sharing best practice and resources.  

We held a Bringing Down the Barriers conference all about diversifying family audiences attended by 26 cultural organisations, wrote blogs about Poverty Proofing for national sector media platforms and ensured expertise was fully heeded in our own practice, including in our steering group.  

With Difference North East and Digital Pathfinders, we ran training about creating accessible online content and Digital Voice delivered another online workshop about running digital inclusion projects. These are just a few examples of new work that wouldn’t have been possible before.  

The cultural sector thrives and all North East families’ lives are enriched by superb arts and culture.
– Mission of North East Family Arts Network

The Future

As for the future, with the cost of living crisis hitting England hard, the North East’s poverty problem is only likely to get worse, starkly reflected by the number of Arts Council Priority and Levelling Up areas in the region at 8 and 3 respectively.  

This makes our work to reach diverse audiences even more urgent and important. Fortunately, we are entering this period in a stronger position than ever with the Family Arts Campaign nationally having just won NPO status and the North East Family Arts Network’s future direction clearly mapped out in a new action plan. 

We want to keep supporting the sector in their endeavour to get continually better at serving all families, develop projects in consultation with families and keep reaching out, connecting, sharing and joining the dots that make change happen. 

At the Bringing Down The Barriers conference, the ‘Nothing For Us Without Us’ listening and involving ethos came through as a critical aspect to engaging diverse audiences. As a project that has always had the amplification of family voices at its heart, we are driven to ensure the culture sector hears them. 

02 February 2023


Sallyanne Flemons, Ambassador, North East Family Arts Network

Alongside her Ambassador activity, Sallyanne is also a freelance culture communications consultant with a specialism in connecting mainstream audiences with great, life changing culture.

You can read more about the North East Family Arts Network here.

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2 February 2023