SoundStorm Music Education Agency

Bournemouth’s SoundStorm has been using music to change young lives since its inception in 2002, helping develop a more inclusive and contemporary music education offering in the area.

It’s been a tremendous success and since 2012 has been the lead partner in the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Music Education Hub.

Wave and SoundStorm Director, Daniel Somogyi, who was one of founders, says securing the Challenge Fund in late 2016 meant they could help a section of society they hadn’t previously targeted: “The thought behind it was to reach out to a group of young people that we’ve never really worked with long-term and to develop the inclusivity of our activities.

“We worked with primarily NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) young people or those who had dropped out of the mainstream education system sector; and, as the project evolved, with  young people facing particular challenging circumstances in their lives that were affecting their mental wellbeing.”

And he explains they were able to help more than anticipated: “Our original target was to work with small cohorts of six to eight young people. In total, over the two years, that would have been anything from 24-32 young people. But in the end, we worked with 53.”

Dan says they learnt a lot of lessons along the way: “I think one of the most challenging aspects was getting cohorts together who were willing to commit to coming back every week for a number of weeks.”

But, he says, by developing relationships with partners, word soon got around: “We linked up with a local school for young people with special educational needs, many of whom have been excluded from mainstream schools – Tregonwell Academy – and developed a drop-in session at Absolute Music, a big local music studio, and a key partner on the project. So, they heard about it from their peer networks.”

Dan explains it was essential they stayed away from a classroom scenario: “Taking them out of a school setting and putting them into a ‘cool’ recording studio and working with them closely had a quite transformative impact on their behaviour and their attitude. In the first Tregonwell cohort at least three of the young people chose to come in during the school holidays to continue with the work.”

Tregonwell was one of a number of key partners vital for the project’s success. Bournemouth Youth Service was another, providing significant funding and support workers to assist sessions. Absolute Music Trust, too, offered the out-of-school setting, in-kind support, and a music leader, Jamie King, with just the right skills and attitude to make the project work.

Dan adds: “From our first cohort, half went back into the education system studying an accredited music course, no mean feat from young people that had had a range of challenges in their lives.”

The remit for eligibility was simple. An interest in music and they could take part. While some of those were able to play instruments such as guitars and drums, Dan says they also used a lot of digital software: “Music technology is a really good route to include those who haven’t had instrumental experience. They can do all sorts of stuff with loops and samples, as well as using a keyboard. It was largely based around music technology, composition, and recording and editing that music. Quite a lot of them were interested in rapping or singing – a wide range of stuff.”

“We let them lead in terms of the kinds of genres they wanted to work on. We had everything from heavy metal to Lily Allen style poprap. Some composed a whole range of soundtracks for the gaming sector. Part of the strategy was to engage them in music forms that they were interested in.

“The idea was to offer really high-quality musical outputs as well as having impacts on life skills. Some of the professional session musicians who came in at the end said they were really struck with what an amazing project this has been.

“One of our practitioners, who’s one of our longest-serving partners, said it was the best, most rewarding thing he’d done. Just seeing the change in these young people, their behaviour and the artistic outputs they managed to achieve exceeded everyone’s expectations.”

As Dan explains, the overall results were impressive: “17% of the young people went back into a formal education accreditation setting, around 40% are continuing an interest in music – formally or informally – and 68% indicated an improvement in their overall well-being or self-esteem as a result of the project.”

The Challenge Fund project may be over, but Dan and his team are hoping that’s not the end of the work.

He says they’ve recently put in a bid for additional funding from Youth Music to take it to the next level: “Challenge Fund was a really positive project that has impacted on our work quite widely. Hopefully, it will help to secure a successor project with Youth Music Bid which will allow us to keep expanding our activities with young people who perhaps aren’t normally included in music education in school settings.

“That will have elements of the Challenge Fund work, but will also cast the net a bit wider again. We are now looking to include very young children and to form a creative inclusive ensemble. It could be an orchestra but of many different instruments – not your traditional classical orchestra – which is inclusive to all young people whatever their background or ability.”

Dan says one of the things the project highlighted was a lack of expertise to use existing equipment: “In quite a lot of Youth Centres now they have lost their music specialists, because of budgetary pressures. One of the elements of the Youth Music Bid would be training for youth workers so they could go back to delivering that activity.

“I guess the ultimate hope is that there’s a much more co-ordinated pathway for young people who are in difficult circumstances or aren’t engaged in the mainstream school system, so that they can access music at various stages and can progress onwards.”

And he says it’s been a rewarding experience for them: “I think for us it’s one of the reasons we do the job – just to see that transformation in young people that might not otherwise get the chance. Hopefully it will leave a very positive legacy.”

You can read more about the project on the SoundStorm website. Also, make sure to watch the video case study they produced below: