The Birmingham music education company that started with a group of just six has flourished into a multi-award-winning business bringing the joy of stringed instruments to more than 25,000 children
Based in Birmingham’s cultural quarter of Digbeth, the Strings Club was founded in 2012 by professional violinist and teacher Amy Cunningham. The idea came as an extension of the fact that Amy was teaching music to more than 250 children in the classroom each week. A ‘toe in the water’ exercise of setting up a music group outside of lesson time started with a mere six budding string players.
Despite the small number, it was a big success with the kids and a parent at the end of the concert asked: “When is the next one?” The word had started to spread and since then, Amy has been devoted to creating inspiring musical experiences for children. Her award-winning music education company now operates from four centres in London and two in the West Midlands – Harborne and Sutton Coldfield – with further openings planned this year in Solihull followed by Bristol next year.
Currently more than 25,000 children aged from four to 11 belong to Strings, enjoying a range of high-quality musical experiences, specifically centred around string instruments including violin, guitar, ukulele and cello.
Prior to establishing Strings, Amy had trained as a violinist at the University of Birmingham and University of London and had performed with many known ensembles. During her training, she also worked for recognised music services as well as being a teacher. “Even though I was teaching, I’d always had a bit of an entrepreneurial background,” said Amy. “I was always into setting up my own enterprises and projects.”
Since launching, Strings has gained wide recognition for it’s refreshing approach to music education from key figures, such as Richard Hallam, chair of the Music Education Council to business industry experts and The Apprentice star Karren Brady.
Strings Club runs Saturday classes and works in schools and has a very fruitful partnership with the Royal School of Music. The emphasis is on playing, learning, but most all doing so with fun. Lots of fun. The club runs a mix of different opportunities for youngsters to interact with music and stringed instruments.
These include Discovery Days where children accompanied by parents get the chance to try out two new instruments of their choice and experience two 20-minute lessons for free! This summer in June, Strings will be launching Discovery Days for the first time at Symphony Hall. They are sure to be very popular!
Strings’ award-winning Ofsted registered Holiday Camps bring together the very best of music education and childcare to engage and inspire during every school holiday. Each day is different, including a range of workshops alongside high quality small group classes.
Or how about having a party! A Ukulele Gurus party is packed with games, activities and music-making. Add to this mix, weekly classes led by leading strings music teachers and school music lessons run by the club in the classroom and its easy to see that Amy has developed a rich seam of business success. And just in case you’re wondering how any parent can afford to invest in a violin or a cello or guitar, Strings supplies the instruments and allows the children to take them home so they can continue having fun and practising!
While Amy and her core team are based in Digbeth, the business uses 130 self-employed ‘contractors’ – musicians, many trained music teachers – who are thoroughly screened before being hired. Looking to the future, Amy would love to add franchising opportunities to the business.
And she hopes the recognition and awards will keep coming. Strings was a finalist in this year’s Federation of Small Business awards and is a previous winner of the Nectar Start-Up of the Year. Amy also won the 2017 Great British Entrepreneur award and was a finalist in the Everywoman awards.
She said: “Over the next five to 10 years, I want the Strings Club to be known as a UK national music education company. What Strings offers is high quality, and as a mum myself with a three-year-old daughter, I know the guilt that parents feel of leaving their child at nursery. You need to know that your child is getting the care and enjoyment and is being very well looked after. I set up Strings because I knew there was a real demand for a fun way of learning music which makes children – and their mums and dads – happy.”