Ashley Smith-Hammond

Culture Republic's research and data allowed NYCoS to engage with Scotland's young people and improve participation.


‘Time to Shine’ Scotland’s Youth Arts Strategy launched in late 2013 with support from the Scottish Government and Creative Scotland. Its goal was that every young person in Scotland would benefit from and be enriched by culture. Part of the strategy to achieve this was to remove barriers—physical, social or economic—that prevent young people from growing, developing and realising their potential through the arts as creators, professionals or young enthusiasts.

In 2014, the National Youth Choir of Scotland (NYCoS) received funding as part of ‘Time To Shine’ to help it deliver against one of the project’s main goals “supporting the national youth arts companies to extend their engagement across Scotland”.

young people laughing at a choir rehearsal
Copyright NYCoS 2017

The organisation was already delivering at a national scale, but the NYCoS team wanted to find out if there were any gaps in its regional provision. Plus the team noticed that there were young people who were very active at the regional level who didn’t take part at the national level and they wanted to make sure this wasn’t a structural weakness.


 As a result, NYCoS asked us to help them:

  • find (to ultimately remove) any barriers to regional participants wishing to participate in the national choir;
  • inform the strategic direction of choir development at the local and national level with input from participants;
  • intelligently revamp their communication strategy to participants, parents and potential members.

The team thought barriers to national participation might be partly a communication issue (which they could solve internally) and partly a result of different motivations of NYCoS participants. Culture Republic recommended starting with how participants and parents engaged with the organisation.

What we did

There were three stages to the research, and these took advantage of both quantitative (to give us hard numbers and indicate any trends) and qualitative measures (to give us a more nuanced picture of how young participants were experiencing the choir).


Culture Republic started with desk research to understand how the mix of participants in NYCoS’ area choirs mapped against the local population base in terms of age and relative deprivation. We used specialist software to make these comparisons and identify the areas of opportunity for NYCoS.


The team created a survey for parents and a separate survey for participants (aged 6 to 25 years old) in all fourteen of NYCoS’ area choirs across Scotland. The survey was designed to get at strategic questions around engagement, participation and dropout.


We ran three focus groups for participants attending annual week-long residential choirs. At these, we consulted in depth with the young participants (across the full age range NYCoS serves) to understand their particular motivations for participation, dropout and levels of awareness of NYCoS provision.

what it showed

The initial results showed that there was significant room for growth in the NYCoS family. The choirs are present in 14 of Scotland’s 32 local authority areas. The research showed opportunities for growth into other local authorities not currently served – highlighting three with a higher than average population of young people and no existing choir. It also revealed there was plenty of room to increase the reach (raise current levels of penetration) within existing areas of operation. The company used this information to make decisions around where to expand its offer and is currently planning to establish two new Area Choirs, one in Glasgow and another in either North or South Lanarkshire.

The research showed that choirs were active in areas of both high and low deprivation and that they were attracting participants from a mix of levels of NYCoS commissioned Culture Republic to build on this research and help the organisation identify specific schools with catchment areas encompassing area of higher deprivation within the average drive time of each area choir.

The survey data was robust with a good response rate. Both parents and kids were positive about the choirs and their participation. In terms of participation the survey showed that girls were more likely to opt into the choirs than boys. Parents had a bigger role to play in encouraging boys to take part, whereas girls were more likely to take an independent interest in the choir. Additionally, younger children were more likely to participate in NYCoS choirs and the numbers dropped as the children got older – a trend that was more marked for boys than girls.

The focus groups showed that when they first started, young people said they were worried that the choir would be very serious (i.e. not about fun) and classical music was not initially appealing or motivating to them. Moreover they were worried about the costs (to the family and later themselves) and that choir singing, in a nutshell, was ‘not for the likes of me’. But they told us that many of these perceptions were overcome.

These findings gave the NYCoS team a clear course for communication, around the fun in participation, its inclusivity and the support available to young people who need additional financial support to take part. For instance, NYCoS has used the findings to promote engagement in local and national choirs – even using findings from the focus groups of all the fun the young people were having in their social media marketing.

Just look at these tweets that build on the findings from the research.

This one showcasing one of NYCoS’ biggest draws: Artistic Director, Christopher Bell.


Messages that highlight the social aspect of choir singing.


 This word cloud was taken directly from Culture Republic focus group findings and shows the positives of participation in participants own words.  


And this message that highlights the financial support available to participants if cost is a barrier.


What’s happened since then

In addition to using the research for the major strategic planning of where to expand the network of area choirs, NYCoS reports using the research in its project planning, day-to-day decision making, marketing communications and in funding applications. They expect:

The research will prove to be an invaluable source of insight as we begin a rebranding project.

Main image credit: Photo from NYCoS at the Fringe in 2016 copyright NYCoScotland.