by Author Phoebe Cross

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Blog - "How to Increase 'Hard to Reach' Young People's Engagement" with Jinx Prowse

A young person sitting in a studio with an acoustic guitar

We recently held our first Empower Hour session, facilitated by Jinx Prowse. For anyone who missed it, this blog summarises what was discussed. The main points covered were:

  • Setting up the space to deliver a music session
  • Musical expertise
  • Teachable moments
  • Working with young people experiencing trauma
  • General top tips

Music Fusion call themselves 'more than just a music charity'. Why? In summary they:

  • Aim to build empathy, resilience and critical thinking into their young people
  • Work with some of the most vulnerable and complex young people in their county (referred). 
  • Give them something to do and somewhere to go and most importantly a voice/a platform to be heard. 

On a practical level they are a recording studio who offer the following progression routes:

  • Initial interview
  • 1-2-1s build trust - confidence
  • Group work/collaboration
  • Composition
  • Recording
  • Releases/Record label
  • Performance
  • Volunteering
  • Mentoring
  • Music leader
  • Project manager
  • Signpost - college, reference for work.

They asked the young people they work with, "why are projects like this important?" https://youtu.be/QgqFmTWXG8A

Setting up the space to deliver a music session

Before you get to the music, the space needs to feel safe and appropriate to enable effecting learning/critical thinking. On a psychological level, things need to be in place, to enable trust, respect, ownership and a voice. 

Jinx shared examples of what sort of space would be inappropriate and cause a lack of trust. In one example, he discussed how a young person's session was also the place he went to detention class and therefore he wasn't turning up to meetings, due to negative association. In another instance, the police expressed an interest in a session and asked if they could see what was going on -  but subsequently arrested one of the young people. An obvious red flag there. You want to make sure the young person feels heard. Their rule at Music Fusion's space is: adult and respect (trust the young people). 

Musical expertise

Music Fusion's rule is that young people are the experts when it comes to the technology, language and culture behind their music. Take some time to ask them some questions. This is your opportunity to learn about them, their lives and aspirations. 

Shared Tom Bowerman's Wonderwall Remix: https://soundcloud.com/musicfusionuk/wonderwall-remix-by-tom-bower

Teachable moments

Some music created can - initially - be racist, homophobic and deeply misogynistic and glamorise crime, drugs and violence. Rather than see this as an obstacle, Music Fusion see it as an opportunity. At Music Fusion, no one can be kicked out for something they say. Their rule: There is no wrong at Music Fusion...other than violence. However, they do challenge young people straight away. Jinx showed a grroup discussion and what they learnt from it (trigger warning for offensive language): https://youtu.be/d3b9bfhXKrY

Working with young people experiencing trauma

Music Fusion work with so many different young people - they all have different needs. Sometimes the only thing they have in common is that they are deeply traumatized. Music Fusion often start working with young people on a one to one basis, before building up to group settings. It's amazing how a sofa and a coffee table is better than school chairs in a circle. They have learnt to have the main group, with a sub-group for people who are choosing not the interact. 

Fight or flight or visible anxiety responses from young people are common. Music Fusion staff have learnt to spot it then let the young person go out for a break (as soon as possible, accompanied by a friend). The fight or flight response is usually over in 15 minutes. Nearly always the young person comes back. In no time the young people spot it in themselves aned ask to go out of the room. Jinx spoke about one young person who started working with them and wanted to go to sleep in every session (as they felt safe there). They allowed this to happen. Eventually the young person got completely involved in the project and became a group leader. They found their confidence and their voice, at their own pace and on their own terms.

General top tips 

  1. Cover travel expenses
  2. Understand these young people are often role models/group leaders - pass their learning onto others - opportunity - tell them this!
  3. Chicken and pizza - eating together - young people often don't get to experience this basic human ritual. 

Finally, message to the viewer from young people themselves: https://youtu.be/Pf0Wb_hTVtE

This was our first Empower Hour as part of our Exchanging Notes Learning & Development programme. You can find more sessions to sign up to under the Events section of the network.