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Creating new songs and unlocking voices with The Songwriting Charity

This blog is part 5 of a series of case studies about the work of hub partners in reaching more young people with music in Gloucestershire. Case studies are taken from our most recent annual report so some programmes will have ended, but they are representative of the work of the hub that is ongoing.

This year saw the continuation of the MMG and Gloucestershire Healthy Living and Learning (GHLL) funded term-long Vocal Projects delivered by The Songwriting Charity. The programmes help young people to create their own song, which is then performed, recorded and filmed.

This year the projects extended to seven of the county’s secondary schools and one primary. The focus was to include as many children from as broad a range of backgrounds as possible with three clear aims, which were to:

  •  achieve a good gender balance (increasing access to singing for boys in particular)
  •  increase the number of students who have struggled to access and maintain any regular singing
  •  continue to develop new ways for young people to engage with singing though songwriting, lyric writing and instrumental work, as Director Ben O’Sullivan explains, “responding to the songwriting process and ‘unlocking their singing voices almost by accident”.

The gender balance this year was good, with 96 boys and 72 girls takingpart in vocal projects. Cleeve School’s programme involved all boys, and Ben says: “It gave us confidence that music educators and headteachers are keen to encourage boys to sing. And just as importantly,” he continues, “that boys them selves genuinely love singing in a group, get a lot from it, and respond well to being encouraged to shine as singers and songwriters.”

The video from the programme, featuring the song, ‘Strong’, attracted a lot of attention, achieving 6,000 plays on YouTube in January alone – watch it here.

The Songwriting Charity also worked with Gloucester Hospital Education Service in partnership with The Music Works, and ran a whole school primary songwriting project involving 180 students across the key stages.

Pilot data on attendance from the programme in Newent school shows a marked improvement in attendance averaging a 55.2% reduction in absence, compared with the same period in the previous year, when the project didn’t run. This means that students taking part increased their attendance by 43 extra days in school overall.

In addition, six of the students now have 100% attendance, compared with only one before the programme began.

The Songwriting Charity is now working with schools to increase the scope of the study on attendance, exclusions and progress.

The Songwriting Charity has now worked in more than half of the county secondary schools (19 of the 39) and five others through G15 schools concert, and one-day workshops.

You can read more case studies in our Annual Report


Empowering teenagers to improve their mental health through music with The Music Works

This blog is part 3 of a series of case studies about the work of hub partners in reaching more young people with music in Gloucestershire. Case studies are taken from our most recent annual report so some programmes will have ended, but they are representative of the work of the hub that is ongoing.

Music Minds is a music-based mental health programme for teenagers, run by The Music Works. It helps young people to cope with problems such as stress, anxiety and depression; and behaviours such as self-harm and eating disorders. It does this by empowering students to consciously use music to help with self-expression, self-awareness, relaxation and mindfulness.

The programme has been piloted in two schools: Barnwood Park, and Severn Vale, and has been funded by Youth Music, NHS Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning, Gloucestershire Healthy Living and Learning and Make Music Gloucestershire and has been part of a national action research programme looking at how arts interventions could be commissioned as part of NHS services.

One of the important aspects of Music Minds is that is has been shaped by young people and teachers as it has progressed. Termly focus groups with students and teachers, where they share their experiences and ideas to help us to adapt and improve the programme. These sessions have shown that participants are taking conscious decisions to express or manage their feelings through music:

“I get angry really easily. With music, Iend up singing to it and it just calms me down. It is a way to vent without physically venting.”

“Music Minds has helped me. When I’m stressed I listen to music. And I put down the words that are making me feel stressed.”

“I never really lashed out on other people but I’d punch a wall until my hands were physically bleeding. I’d isolate myself and block out everyone. I’d do everything I could to punish myself. This has shown me that I’m not the only one feeling this. I have major trust issues. This has helped me talk to people more. I can take everything I’m feeling and do it in a productive way through music.”

The interim report on the first phase has shown that Music Minds has made a significant difference to young people’s mental wellbeing. 96% of participants said the programme had indirectly helped their problems; 42% said it had helped quite a lot or a great deal; 37.5% said their problems had improved.

One young person was rock bottom in self-esteem. There were serious concerns about her behaviour, and she was in the top five of students in her school with the most challenging behaviour. Now, she is no longer a concern at all and staff attribute this change to Music Minds.

They’ve said that their relationships have improved, they’re feeling better about themselves and they’re more able to cope with problems:

“I didn’t really know what people were like until Music Minds. Now listening to other people’s problems, I think, I could have been nicer, why wasn’t I nicer?”

“At the start of Music Minds I didn’t really take part, but by the end I’d grown in confidence, I found spoken word … If I feel like I’m stressed I use spoken word, and I wouldn’t have done before …. It helps.”

“It takes your mind off stress, it relieves you from, not your problems, they’restill there, it takes the ease off stressand expectations. Now we’re startingour GCSEs, there are a lot of expectations, a lot of pressure. In Music Minds you don’t need to make it A* grade, it can be whatever you want, you don’t have to do certain stuff tomake it ‘right’.”

The second phase will be completed in December 2017, with a final report due out in early 2018. The programme will then be rolled out to more schools.

You can read more case studies in our Annual Report


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