Cohesion Plus is a Kent based culturally diverse community arts organisation. We have established an innovative approach to using the arts in order to promote cohesion and bring different communities together, working in areas which are economically deprived and traditionally have low levels of engagement with the arts. Over the last 10 years we have built excellent community networks in terms of community groups, schools and artistic partners.
Over the course of our work, we recognised there was a lack of free organised musical provision around popular culturally diverse musical instruments such as the Indian Dhol drum and African Djembe drum. Despite the fact there were significant communities who were interested in that genre who resided in Gravesham in North Kent where our organisation is based. We found that although investment has gone into music educational hubs there is still limited provision for minority musical genres. This is what led us to Youth Music!
Our goal was to provide a safe environment in which young people from BAME backgrounds could learn traditional percussion instruments from their cultural heritage. This allowed them to fuse their own musical ideas and inspirations, creating a unique interpretation based on their lives in modern Britain. We passionately believe that the arts are a great way of bringing communities together celebrating our shared values and the young people that participated in this project especially the core participants were a perfect example of this.
Our project, Community Beats at its core was about providing opportunities for young people to learn the Dhol and Djembe as well as have an opportunity to work towards Arts Award qualifications. In addition we organise a dozen outdoor festivals around Kent so we wanted to also provide opportunities and a platform for young people to share the skills they had learnt with a wider audience. We believed this would help to broaden their experience around performance and to also expose them to different areas of Kent, different cultures and different art forms.
This was the first time we had applied to Youth Music and the journey of the project was very positive but we did have to overcome some hurdles. After a slow start in the spring of 2017, the project quickly built up momentum more so with the Dhol drumming than the Djembe. This is where the advice and support from colleagues at Youth Music was valuable. Once we had moved the Djembe classes to a new venue interest did increase although never to the same level of the Dhol classes.
We delivered a successful outreach programme delivering 15 taster sessions working with local schools and community groups which ensured that young people from all diverse backgrounds were able to benefit from the project. From the feedback we have received this was the first time the majority of participants had been exposed to the Dhol and the Djembe. In addition we delivered 70 core sessions on a weekly basis over the 18 months of the project with all the young people who attended the core sessions from BAME backgrounds. What was pleasing was that although these instruments are traditionally played by males, we had a significant interest from females as well. Over the course of the project 800 young people had the opportunity to play the drums which they would not have had the chance to do otherwise.
The biggest challenge we found was around the Arts Award. This was an area in which we had never worked before, nonetheless through training, sheer hard work and plenty of advice from peers and Youth Music we were able to get 297 young people through Discover and Explore levels. For anyone who is new to Arts Award please do persevere and seek advice where needed as it is a great way of engaging with young people and providing a solid, tangible outcome to your project.