Using peer recommendation
to improve family engagement

North East Ambassador and Project Manager Sallyanne Flemons discusses her work and how the Ambassador programme will help the North East Family Network.

In October 2019 the North East Family Arts Network was very pleased to be chosen to join the Family Arts Campaign’s Network Ambassador Programme. We are one of six networks across England who have increased resources to improve our engagement with families and reach new audiences over three years. This blog explains more about how we intend to do it using a new model.

The Family Arts Network in our region is primarily delivered through Family Explorers North East – a digital project enabling peer recommendation of venues and family-friendly events. Research in 2013 by Newcastle Gateshead Cultural Venues found that peer recommendation is a key factor in giving families the confidence and information they need to try new events, venues and cultural genres. It was this research that led to the creation of Family Explorers North East. A public Facebook Group, website and a regular e-newsletter are the tools providing a platform for these recommendations.

Family Explorers is backed by 14 organisations from across the north east. We call their venues the ‘Brilliant Places’ and we’re proud that (at the time of writing) if you search Google for this term, Family Explorers comes top. These organisations form the North East Family Arts Network and run over 40 venues and one festival, the events of which we promote through the Family Explorers platform.

Our Facebook group families can post directly on the page, ask for advice on days out and leave reviews and recommendations. I also post ideas from the ‘Brilliant Places’. There are now over 10,000 people on the Family Explorers Facebook Group and more than 2,000 receiving the e-newsletter.

What Now?

The new funding from the Family Arts Campaign Ambassador programme has increased the time we can spend boosting family engagement. While this increase in resources is fabulous news for the project, it’s vital that we spend it as effectively as possible to make a real difference and prove, through reliable data, what we are achieving.

We’ve written our outline strategy and our priorities include:

  • Creating and implementing an income generation strategy that should enable us to increase income year-on-year. This will ultimately boost our resources for improving engagement; including potentially upping our marketing spend to promote the Family Explorers platforms to more families, accelerating its growth.
  • Working with more non-arts partners, helping us to reach those audiences who may not currently be engaging with our offer. We’ll explore working with businesses, local authorities, charities and other relevant voluntary groups.
  • Proactively increasing the number of new families engaging with us and achieving a rise in the number of families attending events at network member venues and festivals. We’re hoping to achieve this by growing the number of Family Explorers but also working closely with venues to promote particular events.
  • Recording the perceptions of families attending sample events and those mentioned on Facebook with an aspiration of 75% reporting positively about the experience.
  • Working in partnership with expert network members to increase engagement with those in areas of high social deprivation, potentially introducing stepping stones to enable these audiences to access the Family Explorers tools.
  • Ensuring as many of our region’s cultural organisations as possible are outwardly showing their commitment to quality by signing up to the Family Arts Standards and The Age Friendly Standards and listing their events on the Fantastic For Families website.

We recognise these aspirations are ambitious and we need to break this down into more detailed plans and actions to make it happen. This new funding is in effect providing a springboard to renewed resilience and growth for our network.

Adults and children interactiing with a tablet on a stand at the BALTIC Family Day.

The Challenges

For us, the number of organisations involved with our network represents both an opportunity and a challenge. Between them, these organisations are already doing a huge amount of work to grow family audiences. We can build on this and draw upon their expertise. What is difficult is measuring the effects of our work as a collective when these organisations are all different in the ways they evaluate their audiences, both qualitatively and quantitatively.

Our way around this will be to use Audience Finder to draw out region-wide data as well as insights from our own Family Explorers Facebook Group and analysis of our e-newsletter audiences. We’ve also already sent out surveys to families and our member organisations to establish our baseline information. We can revisit these surveys at milestone points during the project.

We’re fortunate to be able to access learning and expertise from the Family Arts Campaign and to be sharing knowledge and ideas with the other Family Arts Networks in the country. On our three-year journey, we will all benefit greatly from sharing our discoveries with projects in a very similar boat.

On our three-year journey, we will all benefit greatly from sharing our discoveries with projects in a very similar boat.

An adult and child at a craft table

This knowledge of best practice will be invaluable. We are under no illusions about how easy it is to engage those families who may currently feel that the arts are not for them, hence our recognition that we will need to work with others to make this happen. We hope that Family Explorers can be a valuable catalyst for existing projects.

We are also working closely with the Sunderland Family Arts Network to make sure there is no overlap with our data and we’re not double counting. Our projects will complement each other and we’ll share learning and resources where we can.

In the shorter term, we want to hail the new ambitions for the North East Family Arts Network with an event for our region’s cultural organisations in the spring which explains our plans, invites feedback, shares current best practice for engaging families (including from families themselves) and finds out more about what’s currently underway.

It’s early days but we’re optimistic and very excited by the potential of these new resources to improve access to culture and the perceptions of families in a region that currently has one of the lowest levels of arts engagement in the country.

28 February 2020


Sallyanne Flemons, North East Family Arts Network Project Manager and Ambassador

The North East England Network is part of the Family Arts Network Ambassador Programme. Find out more about the Ambassadors and the Programme.

Other resources that might interest you

12 February 2020