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How Plugin has helped me develop professionally and personally by Katie Stevens (Lead Music Leader on Quench Arts’ Plugin project)

Although I have volunteered and worked in the mental health sector for nearly 10 years now, Plugin was the first project I took on as a lead artist. Reflecting on the subject of this blog has allowed me to recognise my growth and development since the start; and what an interesting two years it’s been! Through a year of delivery in person and more recently to the challenges created by Covid, I have been fully steeped in many divergent aspects of the job!

Developing my confidence and style

Over the last years, through the support of the Quench directors and team, I have been able to observe the way many other artists work. The lessons which I learned from my colleagues about pace, direction, how to engage, when to encourage, when to step back etc. seem to have subconsciously bubbled at the back of my mind; they’ve given me the confidence that I know what I am doing, and with my growing confidence to lead sessions, I have been able to relax and enjoy the process.

Challenges of Covid

In the year of 2020, many professionals found themselves to be in working environments that they had not imagined. Although the Covid 19 pandemic forced our practice to change overnight, the challenges which this brought gave me new insights, skills and confidence. Before sessions began online, as a team, we spent a lot of time developing new resources on a wide range of topics. We also made a number of larger project videos to be sent to settings. Teaching a skill often helps embed my own knowledge.  The process of breaking these skills down and considering how it could easily be taught via a short video clip meant that I had to think about the subject in a way that I probably wouldn’t have done previously. When sessions started back up, I was slightly daunted at the prospect of going online. This was unchartered territory for me, and perhaps most of the Quench team at this point. Luckily, I quickly found my feet and as there was no blue-print model for how a session should be, there were many opportunities to develop.

Over the course of the rest of the year, I learned a lot more about what can be done in this way and was often pleasantly surprised! The nature of Zoom and the pandemic meant that sometimes all of my preparation for a session was completely upturned and I found myself in a position where I had to think very quickly to put a completely new session together. Although uncomfortable at the time, it has made me feel more confident that I know what I am doing!

Personal creativity Aside from in my professional life as a community musician, the experience of the last two years has also impacted on my personal creativity too. I had never done any sort of video editing and I now regularly use the skills I have learned on the new software to make videos for my creative projects.

Through working in two settings with the project, it means that I have met participants with many different interests and goals. The expansive nature of people’s interests has meant that I needed to be aware of music that I wasn’t aware of before, to be able to play new instruments and use new technology. I now have a much better appreciation for rap, grime and hip hop and have used elements of the production skills I have learned within my own music. I have also needed to have basic skills on the guitar which has allowed me to enjoy using it in my own writing.

The aims of the project are to build self-esteem, improve musical skills and connection with others and also to give people an opportunity to express themselves musically. If these areas happen to improve for the music leaders too, this can be no bad thing!