"Music is a world within itself, with a language we all understand."
2020 presented many challenges, not least the increase in isolation for young people already very much alone. But it also brought opportunities and the chance to think creatively about how to respond to the ever-changing situation.
One of the challenges that often presents itself is how to connect displaced young people with their new community. Separate ESOL classes, and the lack of family networks makes it hard to find avenues to meet and mix with local people of the same age.
We had been mulling this over for a while with our friends and partners at Surrey Arts, and two points became quite clear. Firstly, music is a great connector and connection was something we all needed after months of lockdowns and distancing. And secondly, since music is a language by itself, maybe we could stop thinking about linguistic and cultural barriers and see these differences as a bridge instead.
And so we created a new songwriting project bringing displaced and local teenagers together through a series of online sessions, culminating in a recording day at the Academy for Contemporary Music in Guildford.
You can listen to the final song now on on iTunes, Spotify or SoundCloud or read on below to find out more about this project >
We’ve seen firsthand the impact of lockdown and COVID restrictions on young people trying to build a new life in the UK. The particular context of displacement means many have been disproportionately affected by the isolation and the lack of routine, exercise and meaningful face-to-face interactions with their peers and adults. Like most organisations working in this field, we have been especially concerned about increased reliance on online sources, and the long term impact on mental health of prolonged uncertainty and lack of hope.
The message from the team at Jamie’s Farm from the outset was that whatever happened, everyone would have a wonderful time. And yet, watching our group get off the coach on the first morning, bleary from the early start and hesitant about why they were there, we couldn’t be entirely sure it would be that easy. However, the team at Lewes are so adept at working with groups from all walks of life that camaraderie was built up in an instant and the sense of belonging to the team was embraced throughout. From the word go, there was no feeling of “them and us”, it was just “us”
It has long been our aim to run a summer school to counter the effects of the long summer break. Anyone who has ever been in language teaching over the academic year will notice the slide when students come back having spoken their own language for the best part of 3 months. If you are living alone, reliant on your own culture for friendship and support, it’s even harder...
Normally, at this time of year, we would be in the thick of things at Trill Farm. Our annual summer camp with Romy and our Trill family is a proper highlight, and the fact that this year coronavirus stopped any hope of us having a week away together caused heartfelt disappointment all round. We tried everything to make it possible, and it simply wasn’t.
One thing the pandemic has shown us however is that it is still possible to think fast, think creatively and get things done...
We joined Surrey Virtual School to take a group of displaced young people for a day at Jamie’s Farm in Lewes. The impact of increased isolation and confinement during lockdown was a real concern and this was a great opportunity to reconnect and be outside.
Jamie’s Farm is all about being a catalyst for change in the lives of disadvantaged young people, by providing a uniquely blended experience of farming, a sense of family and a therapeutic approach.
We immediately felt welcomed, accepted and calm. The staff are clearly skilled at building a rapport even without a common language and started a kick-about on one side of the lawn and a simultaneous game of cricket on the other, so when it was time to head off to the different activities, there was no trace of shyness from anyone.
The farm itself is beautiful and our young people mentioned time and again that they were reminded of home. “That tree… that field… the sheep…”, said with a smile, suggested the weaving of positive threads to the past.
Just over a year ago Vicki and I spent a morning at Operation Centaur in Richmond Park, drinking mugs of tea with Dr Andreas Liefooghe and listening, somewhat rapt, to him talk about the benefits of an equine-assisted therapeutic approach. The evidence is compelling, he told us, that horses can play a significant role in creating a response to complex distress.
We’d already seen snapshots of this during our Summer Camp at Trill Farm, when sessions with Sue from Awareness with Horses had left our group visibly relaxed. For some, it was because it reminded them of home; for others, it was simply because the horses were fun, and kind to them...
The I Speak Music community orchestra is a wonder. It must be a rare thing - an orchestra which thrives not only on its very mix of nationalities, ages and cultures, but also on the different abilities of its players? It is an entirely levelling experience - a shared endeavour where there is simply no space for labels declaring political status or ethnocultural background, nor for restraints created by language difference. I sat with my santoor (which I don’t really play) and my clarinet (which I do) between H on the oud and M on the Eritrean kraa, and was utterly struck by the uniqueness of the moment: when we played not one of us was out of place, for any reason...
We have launched the Big Leaf Football team. Or indeed teams, because last Saturday we had two of them, and both got through to the semis, which for a first outing is brilliant...
We just managed to bring everyone together for Iftar before Eid began. Our wonderful and brilliant volunteer chef arrived with vats of lentil soup, salad, lamb and okra stew plus an array of desserts. How she does it every time we don’t know. And the kitchen was full of old and new faces, of different nationalities, different religions, some fasting, some not...
It was the best sort of day for the proverbial messing about on the river. We were finally able to put our conversations with Surrey Canoe Club into action, and handed over 10 young people to the capable hands of Head Coach, Albert Donovan, for the day...