Musical Beacons

As a London-based music organisation expands its outreach, BCU has partnered with them to ensure their work - promoting positive social change through music making - remains relevant.

Musical Beacons project, where BCU has partnered with Soundcastle

Musical Beacons logo


Kirsty Devaney

Research background

London-based community music organisation Soundcastle has run a scheme called Musical Beacons since 2012 that involves working in partnership with communities to promote positive social change through intergenerational creative music making.

The Soundcastle founders have developed a deeply reflective practice that they outline in their “theory of practice”, which forms the foundation of what they do and how they work. 

In 2019, Soundcastle were awarded funding from Youth Music to expand the Musical Beacons programme to include communities in new locations.

The Soundcastle team wanted to use this opportunity to involve researchers from Birmingham City University to facilitate evaluation and reflection on their current “theory of practice” to ensure it is still relevant and fit for purpose.

Although originally intended for the research and music workshops to take place in person, due to the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020-2021 all workshops have been conducted online via Zoom, therefore this sudden and considerable change to Soundcastle’s practice have also prompted reflection in and on action (Schön, 1983).

Research aims

The following research questions guided the research:

  • Is the current Soundcastle “theory of practice” fit for purpose and reflective of the new Musical Beacons project?
  • How have practitioners reflected on, and responded to changes in practice and delivery in light of the Covid-19 pandemic? 
  • How do community music organisations ensure reflexive, participant-centred and sensitive practices and pedagogy?     

How has the research been carried out?

Keeping in line with Soundcastle’s ethos of co-ownership and collaborative practices; the research took a collaborative and action research approach, whereby the researcher aids reflection on practice.

Soundcastle wanted to use their current “theory of practice” as a starting point and consider 'theory of change' within a 'mutually supportive environment' (McIntosh, 2010: i). The following data collection tools were employed:

  • Group and individual semi-structured interviews and reflective conversations (McIntosh, 2010) with Soundcastle staff;
  • Observations;
  • Short online surveys for participants taking part in the musical activities.

Data analysis took a thematic analysis method involving: ‘identifying, analysing, and reporting patterns (themes) within data’ (Braun and Clarke, 2006: 6).

Outcomes and impact 

The research will result in an internal co-authored report between BCU and Soundcastle to support Soundcastle to build research capacity into their work and continue to reflect on their work and promote and publish their practice to other music leaders through their training, and to other community organisations.