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We Make Culture: our work thrives on bringing young people together

Laura Brewis, Project Director at We Make Culture talks with the North East Culture Partnership about the impact of COVID-19 on their organisation and how they have adapted to the new landscape.

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We Make Culture is a social enterprise based in Sunderland, through the Young Musicians Project we provide high-quality music-making activity across the city.

We believe making music enhances lives and builds communities. Through our work, we want to support young people to develop creative confidence.

The Young Musicians Project (YMP) gives young people free access to instruments, a space to play, the support of professional musicians and the opportunity to record, produce and gig. Our objective is to support young people to both develop their creative confidence and become a self-sustaining supportive community – which will help the local music scene to thrive.

Our work thrives on bringing young people together physically (to Pop Recs in Sunderland), so the lockdown posed a huge challenge to the YMP. Our immediate challenges were:

  • Do young people have “kit” at home to continue their work?
  • Do teenagers even use Zoom?
  • How appropriate is online engagement, given playing music online has quite a few technical limitations.

Our primary objective was to keep that “community” feel to our work and keep the young musicians connected with eachother at a time when they need eachother more than ever.

Young songwriters at Pop Recs in 2018

Acting on instinct

When COVID-19 hit, we acted on pure instinct! The first Saturday after lockdown (28th March) we decided to keep the usual 11am time slot when we would normally start our session in Pop Recs and take it online to Zoom, to see what happened.

There seemed something very important about the normality of keeping that connection at the same time as we usually would. And, to our slight surprise, 15 teenagers turned up!

Challenges and practicalities

We had to make sure straight away that we could do this safely and had to implement some new safeguarding procedures quickly.

Online creates a huge divide between young people who have access to internet, instruments and/or tech at home and those who don’t. This isn’t as obvious or significant when they’re all in a room together with shared equipment. As a result, we have distributed all of our equipment out to the young people, but it’s still a challenge.

There are more subtle challenges too: young people who don’t feel comfortable revealing their houses to each other via Zoom, those who don’t feel comfortable singing or playing with family in the house or those who struggle with anxiety and aren’t good with video calling.

And for us, a challenge was money! We’re a tiny project with not much surplus cash, the equipment and additional 1-2-1s cost us more than running the weekly group sessions.

A shift in purpose

We quickly realised that group sessions had to be more of a social thing rather than “productive” musically. So alongside the group session, we offer 1-2-1s with the project musicians – Beccy Young, Natasha Haws and Marty Longstaff – where the young musicians can get more concentrated support and those have had good take up too!

After the initial “panic” move online, we’ve had time to think about how we engage those young musicians who can’t/don’t want to use Zoom.

Therefore, we are offering remote feedback or keeping in touch with messages or social media. We’re also sharing their work online and the young musicians are in the process of organising our first online gig.

Lockdown projects

We launched our Songs in Bedrooms sessions during lockdown, to showcase the work that the young people create in their 1-2-1 sessions. There has been such a wonderful response from friends and family of the young people, other organisations and a whole new audience of the general public, who wouldn’t normally see this kind of work.

The musicians themselves have been so supportive of each other on social media, and it’s amazing to see that that community is still there, even though they can’t be physically together.

We’ve had enquiries from new young people too, who want to get involved which is a wonderful and unexpected byproduct of the project.

Laura Brewis is the Project Director of We Make Culture, a social enterprise based in Sunderland. Find them on Facebook and Instagram:

Facebook: facebook.com/youngmusiciansprojectsunderland/

Instagram: instagram.com/wemakeculture/

We Make Culture website: www.wemakeculture.co.uk

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