Working with the Barbican to gather insights into what young people want from their membership in future.

March 4, 2020
Photo of the author - Ashleigh Hibbins

Ashleigh Hibbins

In November and December 2019, we worked with the Barbican Centre to conduct independent research with members of the Young Barbican scheme, to provide insights into what young people wanted from their membership in the future. The Barbican was especially keen to hear from members at the younger end of the spectrum, and those who hadn’t attended an event recently. The Barbican already has a resident youth panel, but it was great to see their enthusiasm for giving more young people a voice in future programming plans.

Young Barbican is free to join and gives 14 to 25-year-olds discounted access to art and entertainment, exclusive events, and creative learning opportunities. Members can stay up-to-date with offerings through social media and a dedicated e-newsletter.

Our approach

The Barbican needed this research done quickly, so we designed an approach that was efficient and targeted, but also accessible and enjoyable to encourage less-engaged members to participate.

To achieve all of this, we ran 2 different evening focus groups to avoid clashing with school, uni and work commitments. We recruited participants through a short e-survey sent out to all Young Barbican members, asking details such as age, length of membership, and last event attendance. We also provided a financial incentive to encourage participation and to recognise the value of young peoples’ time and knowledge.

Members were asked to fill in the survey to register their interest, but spots were not allocated first come, first served. This gave us the opportunity to specifically select a representative range of participants, instead of only the most-engaged members. We also made sure the focus groups included fun and creative evaluation activities, to reflect both the age range of the participants and the artistic topics under discussion.

The result was a robust, evidence-based set of insights and recommendations that the Barbican can use as a roadmap to keep their young members scheme relevant, accessible, and audience-led.

What Young Barbican members told us reflects broader needs and interests amongst young people, and provides useful insights for the arts and cultural sector more widely.

So through the timeless medium of Spice Girls lyrics, what do young people really, really want from an arts membership scheme?

Say you’ll be there (in their notifications)

Young people want to hear frequently from the organisations they’ve signed up to, through e-mail and social media. If you’re not popping up in their inbox or social feeds regularly, it’s easy to forget you exist.

Instagram and Twitter are your best bet for social media engagement, and it’s important to have a presence across multiple platforms. There’s no single all-purpose social media provider anymore - young people tend to use each platform for different purposes. For example, Young Barbican members told us they use Instagram to find out about places and events, but choose Twitter to ask practical questions about their visit. Young people will expect you to have a presence on all major social platforms. That being said, keep in mind Facebook is increasingly not the platform of choice for under 35s.

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They need somewhere with a human touch

Don’t buy into stereotypes about kids these days being glued to their phones with no interest in real life socialising – most young people we spoke with were keen to feel part of a larger arts community through membership schemes. Opportunities to get to know staff at arts organisations were also valued.

Too much (to pay?)

It might seem obvious, but most young people are very price sensitive. They will carefully consider the entire cost of attending a venue or event, including travel, food and drink, and souvenirs/programmes in addition to the actual ticket price. Do your discounts for members and young people genuinely make your venue or event accessible when factoring in all these additional costs?

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Spice up their life

Finally, young people told us that they are hungry for radical, cutting-edge arts programming. They value organisations that aren’t afraid to take risks, tackle provocative themes, and experiment with bold new approaches.

We really enjoyed working with the Barbican and their young members on this research project, and we can’t wait to see what the Young Barbican scheme has planned for this year.

Featured in the March 2020 edition of The Learning Diaries. Aimed at those working in learning, engagement or participation in the cultural sector, this newsletter will share updates from our team on sector events, ideas from some of our projects and links to new research. To receive The Learning Diaries, visit the sign up page.