Mental health and wellbeing column: living our values

Rachael Perrin
Friday, March 1, 2024

Soundcastle is a women-led charity based in Hastings, supporting people facing social inequality. For its first MT column, the charity's co-director, Rachael Perrin, describes its priorities for the workplace.

People's Music community project
People's Music community project


We are fortunate to be part of a sector of amazing community artists, educators and facilitators who believe in the power and value of music-making to support mental health and wellbeing. Each organisation and teacher has their own spin, whether that's songwriting to process trauma, singing to regulate nervous systems, or one of a thousand other ways to use music to support wellbeing. I think we all agree that music is valuable for mental health; multiple research studies, books and documentaries support this, and it feels like our sector, including many key funders and commissioners, now accepts this as fact.

The big picture

At Soundcastle, which is a charity that works in the heart of grassroots music-making and in arts sector support, our advocacy has shifted over the past few years. There is less of an urgency to demonstrate the essential need and value of the creative work, as society has become more comfortable and, at times, celebratory of the use of music in mental health contexts. We have shifted our focus internally, diving deep into our organisational culture and how we help the people who support wellbeing through music-making.

Too often we see music educators and practitioners sacrificing their own wellbeing and mental health in the mission to create safe spaces for others. Burn out, exhaustion and emotional fatigue are common in music education, leading to practitioners and teachers leaving the sector or needing extended periods of time off work – something that is particularly damaging to freelancers who have little job security and no sick pay.

At Soundcastle, we are addressing this head on by highlighting the importance of mental health in the workplace for musicians and music educators. We have always done our best to take care of our team; however, to model a wellbeing-centred culture, we have made some key changes. These have been transformational in terms of supporting our team, and we hope they are valuable to share here.

Behind the scenes

Over the past two years we have undertaken a Wellbeing Review of the organisation to hear what would help our team to stay well and healthy when working directly in challenging mental health contexts. This has included interviews with team members, anonymous surveys, and feedback from team-training days. As a result, we have:

  • Introduced termly supervision for all staff who manage others and work directly in community contexts. This is a vital space in which people can process the challenges that they experience working with vulnerable communities and in creating the healthiest relationships with peers.
  • Moved our freelance staff team onto PAYE so that we can offer better support in terms of paid leave, parental leave, working conditions, pensions and having consistent work patterns.
  • Formalised line-management and review structures based on wellbeing. As a peer-led organisation we have always placed equal value on all voices in decision-making; however, by formalising this model, we are able to better meet the needs of our team and centre their voices.
  • Created a Wellness Action Plan that each team member completes confidentially and uses to influence their asks in line-management reviews and team meetings. This is helping to create a highly tailored environment that meets the personal needs of each member of staff.
  • Formed a training partnership with three other brilliant community music organisations, so our teams can train together and learn from one another. This shared approach enables us to provide more training and to commission sessions that the teams feel are most valuable for their work.
  • Recruited a board member with professional mental health experience to help us embed mental health awareness at the heart of Soundcastle.
  • Trained all team members in mental health first-aid to create a culture of open communication and understanding of the complexities of mental health challenges.

As a result of these developments, we are seeing a significant increase in wellbeing across our staff team. In 2023 we launched our mental health first-aid offer for arts, cultural and community organisations. In our first year we trained over a hundred people and are delighted to be continuing this offer and supporting other organisations to embed a Wellbeing Action Plan in their workplaces.

Wellbeing remains a key focus in the delivery of our creative music programmes, but it feels considerably more authentic when the people behind the scenes are brilliantly supported, well paid and looked after.