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My journey as a Young Music Leader on Quench Arts' Plugin project by Kayleigh Kennedy

Ever since completing my undergraduate degree, I have known that I wanted to work within the field of inclusive/community arts and, more specifically, musical inclusion. The problem was, I didn’t really know how to go about it. Having studied quite traditionally, I wasn’t sure if I had the necessary skills and I was also worried about jumping into a freelance career. Becoming a Young Music Leader on the Plugin project has helped me to start my journey as a facilitator, by providing me with the necessary support and training I needed to develop my skills.

Firstly, having support from an experienced music leader in each setting made the sessions far less daunting from the outset. Knowing I could rely on them took the pressure off, which significantly decreased my anxiety at the beginning of the project. That said, both leads gave me space to explore my own facilitation skills and interact with the young people without interruption. Now, as the project draws to a close, I am comfortable taking 1-1 or small group sessions by myself.

Secondly, the training on offer has been really helpful. While I do have some personal experience of mental ill-health, I believe it is imperative that even those of us who don’t see ourselves as judgemental keep challenging our internalised stigmas. In this regard, I am grateful to have taken part in the ‘Youth Mental Health First Aid’ training. Not only did the training help us to develop our confidence in supporting someone experiencing a mental health crisis, but it also challenged our own views and encouraged us to consider the language we use to talk about mental health. Everyone would benefit from this training! Similarly, the ‘Understanding and Supporting Young People with ASD’ training demystified several misconceptions for me around autism. Personally, I feel that autism and ADHD are generally presented as a set of specific and limited traits, when, in actuality, the autistic spectrum is far broader and encompasses much more than that. It was also interesting to learn that autism in young women often goes undiagnosed. It’s really important that people in safeguarding positions know what neurodivergency actually looks like; the alternative can be so damaging to young people. As music leaders, it is so vital that we understand how to be as inclusive as possible in our practice and keep striving to be better. Overall, the training provided has left me feeling better equipped to serve the communities that I want to work with.

Lastly, being a Young Music Leader on the Plugin project has increased my confidence in my existing skills and qualities and opened doors to learning new ones. I am a naturally empathetic person but I needed help to channel that into working creatively with others. My vocal skills have come in handy for recording with participants that are brilliant writers but not yet confident in their singing. However, I started the year feeling a bit lacking in the harmony instrument department. With support from my colleagues and a guitar loan from Quench, I have been able to pick up some basic skills and am motivated to keep learning after the project, as I think this will be really useful for me as a facilitator in the future. 

I definitely want to pursue more of this kind of work; I have already gained the position of Assistant Music Leader for the Birmingham branch of the National Open Youth Orchestra, working with disabled and non-disabled young musicians. As well as this, I have just started working on a new inclusive project for young people and their families in Sandwell. I am so grateful to Quench Arts for providing me with this entry-level opportunity and to my colleagues for all of their encouragement. Not many people get to have a job that makes them look forward to Mondays - but, this year, I have! I’m really proud of myself and also of all the young people that have made music with us this year. I’m super hopeful for the future because, whichever direction I end up taking, I have gained invaluable experience through my time on the Plugin project.