arts backpack

Arts Backpack Belfast

Arts Backpack Belfast

The Arts Backpack Belfast

a group of children sitting on cushions in a square. In the centre of the square, two people are performing a dance work. The walls are hung with paintings.

We're now three months into the Arts Backpack Belfast, which we are running in partnership with Young at Art. We are delivering the project in five primary school classes in North, West and East Belfast. So far, participating pupils have been to three experiences as part of the Belfast Children's Festival:

  • Birdboy, a dance performance exploring themes of mental health
  • No Man is an Island, a physical theatre performance in a public space
  • an exhibition of work by Alfred Wallis

All of these activities have included a Q&A, either with the artists involved or with specialist facilitators.

We've enjoyed hearing reports from our colleagues in Belfast about how engaged pupils have been with all the experiences, and look forward to sharing more pictures and footage with you as the pilot progresses. In the second half of the project we will be delivering drama and visual arts workshops in all schools, guided by conversations had with pupils during these first three experiences. We will also be offering some Continuing Professional Development opportunities to teachers in participating schools.

We are grateful to Arts Council Northern Ireland and the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers for their support of this pilot. We have more planned later this year in Leicester and Fife: Click here to support the Arts Backpack pilots.


Why the Arts Backpack supports mental health

Why the Arts Backpack supports mental health

Why the Arts Backpack supports mental health

Here at Action for Children’s Arts, we have been developing the Arts Backpack since 2018. The project started out with a focus on cultural entitlement, and whilst that is still at the heart of what we are doing, we have also had to re-focus our pilots to reflect a world that looks very different in 2022.

There is little doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic has had an effect on the mental health of children and young people. The government’s  COVID-19 mental health and wellbeing surveillance report found that there have been ‘significant increases in probable mental disorders in children and young people’, impacting the lives of around one in six children and young people. The results suggested that primary aged children experienced increases in mental health symptoms during lockdowns, but showed some recovery post-lockdown, however children with special educational needs and from low-income households ‘do not appear to show this post lockdown recovery’. Evidence suggests that the return to school has also worsened symptoms for children suffering with their mental health.

In light of this concerning research, we have incorporated a focus on mental health and wellbeing into our next phase of pilots – the Covid-recovery phase. We are also focussing on delivering in areas where there are high levels of child poverty, as this group has been particularly affected by the pandemic, and hope to work in special educational needs settings later this year.

A range of activities requiring differing levels of engagement and contribution from learners are designed to cater for children who might be anxious about coming back to school. Our Belfast pilot will aim to facilitate play, as a Child in the City report has found that participation in social play has dropped dramatically from 58.9 per cent to just five per cent during the pandemic. Children across all pilots will be encouraged to take part in reflective activities, helping them build expressive language and a stronger sense of identity.

Through our Continuing Professional Development programme, teachers will learn how to create their own programmes of resilience and cultural well-being. The appetite for this was strongly evidenced in the evaluation of the Fife preliminary pilot. We will also be encouraging teachers in England and Scotland to do Place2Be’s Mental Health Champions programme. Place2Be were joint winners of the 2021 J.M. Barrie Outstanding Contribution Award.

With evaluation of all pilots due to be released at the end of this year, we look forward to sharing with you how the Arts Backpack supports mental health. Click here to support the Arts Backpack pilots.

Arts Backpack UK Fife pilot

Arts Backpack UK Fife pilot

The Arts Backpack UK - Fife pilot

Today marks the release of the final report for The Arts Backpack UK - Fife pilot. This report evaluates our preliminary pilot of The Arts Backpack UK, which we ran in Fife, Scotland from October 2020 - March 2021. Click here to download the report.

The key findings of the report are:

  • The Arts Backpack UK can successfully foster arts and culture in areas where children may experience barriers to provision.
  • The Arts Backpack UK has a clear value for the teacher and their professional development and confidence.
  • The Arts Backpack UK can be presented as being about the art-forms, or as a way of engaging with curriculum topics, or a well-being agenda.
  • Local partners (teachers and cultural organisations) can help co-design the contents and influence its make-up according to each location.

This pilot builds on our 2018 Feasibility Study, testing the recommendations of that study in context. We worked in five schools in the Fife Coalfields area with children in classes P4 to P7 (aged 8-11). At the beginning of the project, our plans did not anticipate the full extent of the second wave of Covid-19 and the new lockdown restrictions which meant that children were being home-schooled from January to March 2021. As a result of this, the pilot was largely redesigned to be delivered online.

The pilot demonstrated the value of The Arts Backpack UK for teachers, as well as their pupils. All of the teachers who engaged with the project noted how their confidence in delivering arts and cultural activities had increased over the course of the project. Their feedback about student response was also positive:

They were able to see pieces of art that they wouldn’t normally get to see, especially during COVID. Children were keen to go and look further on the websites to see other pieces of art. (About a Magic Lantern Art activity)

Children who normally would stay quiet and avoid music tasks were smiling and engaging and the children enjoyed sharing their creations with their peers and the staff. (About Google Chrome Music Lab)

They enjoyed being able to tell a story, that they created, in a different way. Other children liked that they could be more creative than they would in a standard piece of writing and that there were no right or wrong ways to create their comic book. (About V&A Dundee 'Create a Comic Book')

Many thanks to all the teachers and pupils who took part in the project and contributed to this report. Thank you to the young people at Chickenshed Theatre and the readers of First News for their valuable contributions to pilot planning. Our thanks also to the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers and Fife City Council for their generous financial support.

We are currently planning a second-phase of pilots to take place in the 21/22 academic year.

Arts Backpack pilots begin in Fife

Arts Backpack pilots begin in Fife

Arts Backpack pilots begin in Fife

We are delighted to announce that the Arts Backpack UK began its first pilot in six Fife primary schools at the beginning of November. We are looking forward to working with around 200 students and teachers at: Cowdenbeath Primary School, Kelty Primary School, Benarty Primary School, Hill of Beath Primary School, Cardenden Primary School and Fulford Primary School.

Over the next four months, classes will be able to select activities to go into their Backpacks from our directory of online resources. This includes activities from ACA Members Theatre Alibi and Magic Lantern; Scottish arts organisations Imaginate and Scottish Opera; and national and international institutions such as Google Arts and Culture. In addition to this, each class will have the opportunity to commission a piece of online content from one of our partners in Scotland.

Everyone at ACA is so proud to be pushing ahead with this first pilot, despite the challenges presented to us by Covid-19. Although the pandemic has limited our possibilities to work face-to-face, it has truly widened the horizons of what arts and culture are available for children to experience online. We look forward to sharing these experiences with our students in Fife over the next four months.

A plea for donations:

If you feel able to support future pilots of the Arts Backpack UK, please donate here:

Chris Jarvis article in Arts Professional

Chris Jarvis article in Arts Professional

Chris Jarvis article in Arts Professional

ACA Trustee and BBC presenter Chris Jarvis has written a fantastic article about the Arts Backpack UK for Arts Professional.

What is profoundly clear from the report is that access to culture is extremely unequal across UK schools. As an organisation we are passionate about targeting those children who do not currently access arts and culture, and hope that the Arts Backpack will be a means of levelling an unequal cultural playing field.

Read the full article here:

Arts Backpack UK: a statement from David Wood OBE

Arts Backpack UK: a statement from David Wood OBE

David Wood statement

I believe that the Arts Backpack idea could be the most significant notion and possibility to have surfaced in the twenty years or more since our charity began. The idea confirms ACA’s belief that all children are entitled to attend arts events and experiences. This belief is enshrined in Article 31 of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child.

The Arts Back Pack is a novel and appealing way of ensuring that every child can expect to experience the arts several times a year.

The idea is important for children.

It is important for parents.

It is important for teachers.

It is important for children’s arts practitioners and for companies and arts organisations – theatres, museums, concert halls, art galleries etc.

It is important for local councils, and for government. By helping to activate the intentions of Article 31, it is a way of complying with the Article and encouraging interest in the arts.

It is important for the medical profession, who regularly tell us that the arts help children’s wellbeing.

It is important for the Arts Council, who would recognise that attendances at arts events and performances would increase.

It ticks so many boxes!

The Arts Back Pack could revitalise the organisations and companies that provide arts for children, by instantaneously increasing the numbers of children able, via school and/or parent, to take advantage of the offer. In the long term, it would make children’s experience of the arts something that is part of their mainstream education, rather than an add-on or luxury, part of the cake rather than the cherry.

David Wood OBE, ACA President

Click here to find out more about the Arts Backpack UK.

Arts Backpack Pilot – How to get involved

Arts Backpack Pilot – How to get involved

In December 2018 ACA published their commissioned feasibility study examining the idea of an Arts Backpack programme for every primary school child in the UK. An Arts Backpack would serve as a digital collection point for Arts, Cultural, Heritage and Library engagements – aiming to ensure that every child had access to at least five quality participatory experiences throughout the school year. Click here to download the report.

We are now focussing on delivering the report’s recommendations and would like to invite professionals with an interest in this UK wide programme to get in touch, and to get involved. We are looking for the following collaborators:

  • Local Lead Organisation - supported by ACA to coordinate the project in their area; this will include engaging with primary schools, launching the Arts Backpack in their area, supporting schools during the pilot
  • Local/Regional Arts and Cultural Organisation Partners - support by the Local Lead Organisation and ACA; the local partners will form a hub, offering a menu of activities to participating schools
  • National Digital Partner - ACA would like to work with an organisation who can guide the digital element of the Backpack for all pilot programmes
  • National Evaluation and Research Partner - ACA would like to work with an organisation who can evaluate the effectiveness of all pilot programmes

We are keen to link with any organisations or individuals interested in working with us on this aspect of the work. Click here to download the full pilot briefing document. Email: if you are interested in collaborating, funding or participating in the pilot projects.

ACA publishes Arts Backpack UK Feasibility Study

ACA publishes Arts Backpack UK Feasibility Study

Download the Feasibility Study here

Over the past 18 months Action for Children’s Arts (ACA) has been holding round table meetings with representatives from organisations across the UK who listen to children and allow their ideas to inform their practice. From these discussions the idea of a UK-wide initiative to promote, enhance and curate arts engagement that appeals to children, parents, carers and teachers emerged as a gap in current UK wide provision.

Looking at other Cultural Offers covering a similar scope, ACA found interesting examples of good practice across the world and from these models identified a format that may work for Primary Schools across the UK – an Arts Backpack.

In autumn 2018 ACA – with support from Arts Council Northern Ireland, ASSITEJ UK, Belfast City Council, Cambridgeshire Music, Fife Council, and two individuals – commissioned Michael Judge and Richard Freeman to explore the idea of an Arts Backpack that could be offered to every Primary School child in the UK. The Arts Backpack would serve as a digital collection and reflection point for all their Arts, Cultural, Heritage and Library engagement across the school year with an aim to ensure that each child has access to a minimum of 5 experiences each year.

ACA commissioned this study to examine the validity of the idea, to better understand if there was a case for it to develop further and if so, how that may be achieved. Part of the Conclusion of this report advises a series of Pilot Projects are undertaken to test the idea further and to better understand the concept within a variety of contexts throughout the UK. ACA is keen to work with strategic partners to develop and deliver these suggested Arts Backpack pilots.

To ensure children’s voices are co-creators in the Arts Backpack, and to create a model to support the development of all Pilots, ACA is launching a strategic partnership with Chickenshed, an Inclusive theatre company based in North London. A research group of 8 children from Chickenshed will explore a range of themes about the importance of performing arts to the 0-12 age range. Through this they will generate 5 questions for a questionnaire.

Through this scheme, a final questionnaire will be circulated by ACA to UK schools and arts organisations who may be part of local or regional pilot schemes. It will also be distributed by FIRST NEWS, The UK’s national newspaper for young people, resulting in a children’s voices adding directly into this debate.

Download the Feasibility Study here

Arts Backpack UK launch – photos

Arts Backpack UK launch – photos

On 4 August 2018, ACA celebrated its 20th Birthday at the National Theatre, where the charity launched in 1998. It also used this Impact Hour as an opportunity to launch the Feasibility Study for the Arts Backpack UK. Find out more here.


National Theatre


President David Wood OBE

BAFTA Young Presenter 2016 Tianna Moore with ACA Trustee Chris Jarvis

ACA Trustee Janet Robertson

Patron Jamila Gavin

Trustee James Mayhew
Guests at the party


Trustee James Mayhew with Patrons Michael Foreman, Jamila Gavin

Trevor MacFarlane, Labour Party and European Parliament

ACA Chair Vicky Ireland MBE

Vicky Ireland MBE

Cutting the cake: Tianna Moore, Vicky Ireland

Arts Backpack Launch

Chris Jarvis, Tianna Moore, Vicky Ireland

20th Birthday Cake