West Sussex Music Trust

West Sussex Music Trust, the county’s music education hub, is a not-for-profit company with charitable status. This case study forms part of the different delivery models – social enterprises (trusts) section of our online Culture Hub.


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West Sussex County Council operated an in-house music service for over 50 years. In 2012, councillors decided to explore different delivery models for the service – partly because the council was repositioning itself as a commissioning authority, and also to ascertain whether an independent service would be in a more sustainable position. With the support of a project manager at the council and with input from the change team, various options were explored, with three main aims:

  • to determine the most appropriate operating model that would ensure the continued development of music education in West Sussex
  • to enable the development of partnerships to broaden the offer and increase participation
  • to mitigate the risks arising from reduced grant funding.

External legal advice was obtained to look at the pros and cons of the various legal structures. Once the decision had been made to ‘spin out’ West Sussex Music Trust from the council, a grant of around £30,000 was secured from the Cabinet Office mutuals support programme to provide support for business planning and developing a marketing strategy.

Impact of the project

West Sussex Music Trust was formed in 2013 with a board of trustees overseeing its work. Their role is to ensure that its charitable aims and music educational outcomes are met and that it develops a sustainable approach to the provision of music education across the county. Most of its funding derives from parents, schools and the Department for Education’s music education hub grant, administered by Arts Council England; other funding opportunities are being explored.

The benefits of moving to a charitable company model were identified as:

  • independence in policy-making for music education
  • autonomy to set a pricing strategy to schools and families
  • fundraising via Gift Aid on charitable donations
  • fundraising from a far wider range of grant-giving bodies than possible as a local authority
  • the potential to build partnerships to enhance and build the sustainability of the Trust’s offer.

The impact of the project has included:

  • the Trust has a greater sense of identity, stronger branding and is able to communicate with schools and customers in an improved way.
  • A more commercially sensitive approach to pricing is possible.
  • Autonomy of decision-making by the board of trustees means the Trust is more ‘fleet of foot’ and can respond to opportunities quickly.
  • The Trust employs a business manager with recent experience of fundraising and marketing in a large regional charity.
  • The spin-out provided a valuable opportunity to question why things were done in certain ways, and throughout the transition process staff have been encouraged to think differently about every aspect of their work.
  • Although there is no financial or governance relationship, the Trust retains close links with West Sussex County Council.

Key learning points

There were a number of challenges associated with the transition process:

  • Some aspects took much longer than anticipated, such as procurement of systems and services for the new organisation via the county council’s procurement process. In the year or so leading up to and following the spin-out, the change process absorbed all of the lead music officer’s capacity. 
  • Gaining external advice proved crucial. Although council officers were keen to support the transition, independent knowledge and advice brought a more focused commercial perspective to the plans.
  • Prior to transition there were 160 staff, mainly part-time teachers. The process involved two TUPE consultations, one with the council’s employees and the other with Capita employees who were part of the council’s administrative function.

For further information contact James Underwood, Chief Executive, West Sussex Music Trust: james.underwood@westsussexmusic.co.uk


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This case study have been developed in conjunction with Arts Council England.