Mental health and wellbeing column: Supersonic progress

Imogen Williams
Wednesday, September 1, 2021

In the third instalment of our new mental health and wellbeing column, Imogen Williams from Lewisham Music introduces a new programme for young people at risk of poor mental health.

 Lewisham Music students singing
Lewisham Music students singing

Lewisham Music

Among the plethora of academic, social, and personal benefits that music education can offer children and young people, Lewisham Music believes that its impact on mental health and wellbeing is one of the most important. The disruption of the pandemic has put huge strain on many young people, particularly on those already struggling with their mental health. Through social isolation, upturned routines, breakdown in support and, in some cases, traumatic experiences, the lasting effects of the pandemic on the mental wellbeing of young people is deeply concerning.

In response to this, Lewisham Music has launched a new Youth Music-funded programme, Sonic Minds. This two-year programme will support hundreds of young people across Bromley, Bexley, and Lewisham. Through collaborative song writing and music production, our team of music leaders will work with children to help them share their stories, celebrate their identities, and express themselves through music.

Our ongoing #MusicMadeMe campaign has demonstrated the strong correlation between music and emotional wellbeing with a range of young people we work with:

  • ‘Music is how I express myself and how I express my emotions' – Tyrique, 13
  • ‘Music means relaxation and getting rid of any stress. It helps me refocus my mind’ – Rendys, 12
  • ‘Music has made me very happy, especially when I was going through a hard time in my life’ – Jedida, 13

Safe space

Evidence gathered from our recent work – Rap and Lyricism, Fellowship Music Collective, and Zoooom Choir – has demonstrated the need for Sonic Minds. Statistics and anecdotal feedback have shaped the design of the programme, which specifically targets children and young people who are at elevated risk of poor mental health. Keith Sykes, community music manager at Lewisham Music and one of the brains behind Sonic Minds, said: ‘We know from our research with partner organisations that looked after children and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are particularly vulnerable to social isolation and are affected badly by being withdrawn from education. It is vital, therefore, that we provide access to creative outlets for these young people. Programmes such as Sonic Minds will give young people a safe space to meet other young people, share their stories, explore their identity, have a sense of independence, and develop a sense of purpose’.

Valuable research

As well as facilitating music creation, Sonic Minds aims to feed into the ever-growing research around the impact of music on the mental wellbeing of young people. The programme will be consistently documented and evaluated through participant surveys and project reviews – the framework of which has been agreed in partnership with Sound Connections. We hope that this research will eventually lead to the development of a ‘best practice toolkit’ which can be implemented within support systems for children experiencing poor mental health.

We also recognise the importance of getting this research out to the general public. As part of the programme, sound designer and installation artist Gawain Hewitt will be creating a physical sound installation, co-designed with the young participants. Hewitt's installation will incorporate their musical creations and audio recordings of their experiences. This piece will then be toured around local venues to showcase the programme and inform audiences of the benefits of music on children's mental wellbeing.

Ultimately, we hope that Sonic Minds will build on our child-centred and youth-led practice to provide a safe space for these young people to explore difficult feelings. Sykes said: ‘All young people strive for outlets. Regardless of background or identity, by offering self-expression through music we help to build the foundations of a happy, healthy and resilient individual’.

In a year that has seen young people face isolation, uncertainty, anxiety, and trauma, we believe this work is needed now more than ever.

Lewisham Music's two further columns over the next year will share updates on the Sonic Minds programme. Follow them on Twitter @lewishammusic.