Community Music Spark (CMS) is Sage Gateshead’s community music training programme for young people and adults with additional needs. The project supports the music delivery skills of participants, and endeavours to tackle issues of inequality through providing access to work experience and pathways to employment with an emphasis on ability and inclusivity. This is a short blog on CMS visibility and the 'social norm'. Here are some thoughts that Programme Leader Matt Sokel has shared with Steve Jinski as we restructure the CMS programme for the next stage of its development.
The CMS group have become well known to members of Sage Gateshead staff from many different departments, and have also attracted outside interest from partners wishing to collaborate and engage with the project.
Matt tells me ...'The visibility of CMS Trainees and Volunteers in our own organisation is a priority for the project, as it not only supports the development of social engagement and independence, but it also challenges people’s perceptions around the “social norm”. Here we have a group of individuals with a range of needs, some more complex than others, that are carrying our notable work in community practice, training and performance, and are accessing opportunities that may have been too challenging for them in the past. The staff at Sage Gateshead are witnessing this happening and the knock-on effect of acceptance and camaraderie is evident for all to see. This fits in very well with Sage Gateshead’s commitment to inclusivity, and it has placed a group that could be loosely described as “exclusive” (the mutual learning environment, coupled with the diverse range of staff and participants challenges this perception) at the centre of this.'
Matt lists the following as avenues for visibilty and inclusivity:
- Work Experience Programme : Sage Gateshead’s work experience programme has worked with CMS to offer placements in other departments for CMS Volunteers. This has seen relationships develop between staff and participants and further strengthened the links between departments. By being 'on placement' you get to be part of the very fabric of the organisation. It has been great to have CMS participants in the office, a place that can sometimes be a bit daunting if you are not used to it.
Music Spark Show: Our annual event is given the full respect and service of any other high profile performance event at Sage Gateshead. Members of the CMS group are involved in all aspects of event running like artist liaison, soundchecks, hosting and other hospitality duties (as well as performance!). This sees them holding professional conversations, and 'banter' with tech staff, front of house and Customer Experience staff. It is also worth noting that because the Music Spark Show now has such a high profile, whereas in the past we would have to mail out to partner organisations to confirm their involvement, we now receive emails off potential performance groups asking for a slot!
Training development: CMS has developed some methods of practice, such as Mutual Learning, Inclusivity and Tell Show Do, that have been implemented in training modules delivered by CMS Volunteers further afield than just withing CMS. These resources are now being used as part of other bigger training packages that Sage Gateshead are developing through their Youth Music Fund C programme, with CMS members playing what we might call a 'consultancy role' due to their position of specific expertise.
An organic approach: Upon developing relationships with participants it is possible to offer a bespoke learning package that suits their needs and aspirations. A mutual learning environment, where everyone who enters the space – staff or participants – is fully aware that each person has something unique to share, and we all have something to learn, makes this approach possible, as each member of the team develops an awareness of individual skill bases and collective strengths. A sense of self worth breeds self confidence and enables the development of social interaction outside of the session not just at Sage Gateshead but in all aspects of the participants lives.
Measured challenge: Following on from the organic approach and the mutual learning environment, when certain boundaries, aspirations, likes and dislikes are established, CMS offers a safe space in which to challenge yourself. Changes in routine can very disruptive to people with an autism spectrum condition for example, but small deviations in routine can unleash progress in areas that may have previously been perceived as unreachable. Matt believes providing participants with access to challenges is a very important indicator of equality. It also means the project does not stand still or is not just repeating a formula that has worked before so therefore there is no need to challenge or change it. CMS encourages and supports questioning and reviewing of everything about its delivery. The feedback and participation in these reviewing processes by participants helps shape the programme. These processes also give participants confidence to express opinions and not just be passive participants at Sage Gateshead.
Meeting in the cafe: Every Friday morning the group meet in the cafe, which is situated on the main concourse of the building. It is a central point of Sage Gateshead, where just about every member of staff, and Sage Gateshead customers, pass through at least once a day. CMS have become very comfortable in this surrounding, and seem to have a sense of ownership and belonging. A number of the participants are on first name terms with catering staff, facilities staff and project leaders, managers and directors! For me personally (Steve) Friday mornings in the cafe with a cup of coffee and 'chewing the fat' with CMS is a highlight of the week.