Nordoff Robbins responds to DCMS about impact of Coronavirus

At the start of June Nordoff Robbins submitted a response to the Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport's (DCMS) request for evidence as part of a consultation into the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on our sector. Here is our response in full:

What has been the immediate impact of Covid-19 on the sector?

The pandemic and national lockdown has had an immediate and dramatic effect for charities and the music therapy profession, both on organisations and independent practitioners. Our experience at Nordoff Robbins has not been too dissimilar to other creative arts and therapeutic organisations across the sector.

In March when the outbreak first struck and a national lockdown was put in place, we took the decision to temporarily stop all our music therapy sessions with immediate effect across the UK. This affected our work with individuals and with partner organisations such as hospitals, care homes and schools as all of our work was face to face and many of those we work with are in the shielding category as listed by the UK Government. The health and wellbeing of those receiving our music therapy, our colleagues, and students was our number one priority then and it continues to be our number one priority now.

We’ve been working to assess ways in which we can continue to provide some form of musical support for those we work with. We have started offering music therapy as one-to-one or small group sessions online (where appropriate for the individuals). However, online delivery is only suitable for approximately a quarter of those we usually work with. We have also started working with our partner organisations (schools, care homes, mental health referral units to name a few) to understand how we can restart face to face music therapy sessions when appropriate. But this is by no means easy and we are not back up to the levels of delivery pre the crisis.

When the outbreak started back in March we moved our education and training of music therapists online to protect both our students and tutors. We continue to provide our Masters and PHD programmes online and are in the process of moving our short courses online as well. We’re working closely with our validator, Goldsmiths University, and taking advice from the Health Professions Council (HCPC) to ensure in this adapted way we’re still delivering these programmes to the very highest standards. But with ongoing uncertainty about when and how schools will return, which are our major source of student placements, it is challenging to plan for the new academic year and what our education provision will look like from September.

In addition, we’ve taken the hard decision to pause our music therapy research work for the time being. This includes our current primary project on music therapy in education settings. Meanwhile, our MPhil/PhD research students continue to work on their projects with support from our supervisory team, even though face-to-face data collection is not possible at the moment.

Financially, most of our fundraising events and activities have had to be cancelled or postponed this year – meaning we currently expect to lose around 75% of our fundraising income in 2020, contributing to an anticipated shortfall in revenue of £6million. We have furloughed two thirds of our workforce and cannot rule out redundancies further down the line.

How effectively has the support provided by DCMS, other Government departments and arms-length bodies addressed the sector’s needs?

The Government response overall has been slow and unclear. The furlough scheme has been very welcome for organisations like ours who primarily employ their own music therapy practitioners, but of no use to independent practitioners. The arrangements for self-employed people have helped, but these were very delayed. ACE’s crisis grants to individual artists are welcome but do not address the needs of society as a whole or support the organisations that are trying to address this themselves.

The continuing uncertainty around plans to re-open schools has proved particularly challenging for us to plan towards ensuring that vulnerable children can regain access to our services.

It has also been hugely disappointing that the Government has not engaged more meaningfully with the third sector to properly understand what support is required to enable us to continue to make the vital contributions that we do to supporting communities, now more than ever during this unprecedented national crisis. The emergency funding announced for the sector by the Government in March is a drop in the ocean to meeting the expected £4billion shortfall in income charities are expecting to experience this year. Without more help many charities will not survive, leaving a gap in services and support. This is likely to have a significant effect on the future of community-level arts and creative engagement, including the arts therapies and community arts.

To quote Caron Branshaw, CEO of Charity Finance Group: “The problem is we haven’t convinced Government its assumptions about the sectors’ balance sheet, efficiency and effectiveness are wrong. That it’s in it and society’s best interests to invest in us. It gets business. Yet at the heart of government it seems the case for the value we generate or the long term benefit we generate for the economy (put at £200bn by the Bank of England’s Chief Economist, Andy Haldane) is yet to be accepted. How else might we explain £750m for an entire sector (c170,000 organisations) versus Tesco receiving £585m in rate relief, whilst concurrently distributing £635m to shareholders and seeing sales increase by 30% during the crisis? £585m for a single company. £750m for all of us [Charities].”

What will the likely long-term impacts of Covid-19 be on the sector, and what support is needed to deal with those?

Social distancing is likely to have a dramatic impact on all arts organisations that depend on gathering groups of people together at particular times and in particular spaces. In our own field of making interactive music-making available to people in the form of music therapy and associated activities, the effects are likely to be felt for a very long time and most acutely by the most vulnerable and isolated people in society.

Likewise, ongoing social distancing is likely to impact on our ability to fundraise effectively and sufficiently, restricting the activities and opportunities we can offer people to get involved and support us. As an organisation reliant on charitable fundraising for most of our income, this will inevitably impact on our long-term financial security. We would welcome improved engagement from Government to provide greater support to the sector to weather this storm.

What lessons can be learnt from how DCMS, arms-length bodies and the sector have dealt with Covid-19?

Creative arts practitioners and charitable organisations are resourceful, imaginative and flexible, and have pivoted quickly to adapt to the new societal needs that have been created by the pandemic as well as the challenges. If DCMS and other Government departments had engaged with the sector sooner and more effectively we would have been able to make a greater contribution to finding solutions together.

How might the sector evolve after Covid-19, and how can DCMS support such innovation to deal with future challenges?

While there is likely to be increased use of digital technology to facilitate access to some form of music therapy online, this will never fully replace the need for live, face to face engagement in the creative arts, especially where vulnerable and marginalised communities and individuals are concerned. For this reason, we would like to see the prioritisation of the musical, artistic and creative experiences of people who, even in normal times, find it hardest to access meaningful creative experiences but who stand to benefit from them most. This includes people living with learning disabilities, cognitive impairment, autism, or developmental delay, and people who are excluded from participating in mainstream society by mental illness, dementia, poverty, or their status as refugees or asylum seekers. For them it is imperative that we find ways to continue to make music therapy and meaningful music-making experiences accessible.