by Author Louise Henry

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Online Network: Engaging Young People Through Non-Digital Means

Working offline with Young People in challenging circumstances during social distancing

Over the last few weeks, Youth Music has held a series of online networks addressing various challenges faced by organisations in the wake of COVID-19, the most recent of which centred on engaging young people through non-digital means.

For most of us, our default means of working, socialising, and learning has shifted online over the last few months; certainly, Youth Music has seen a huge increase in grantholders adapting quickly and carefully to digital delivery. Online sessions are providing valuable support and stability to young people during a challenging time, however those without internet access grow increasingly more isolated.

The circumstances around digital isolation vary, but broadly fall into two categories; economic (lacking resources) and environmental (unsafe or uncomfortable living conditions, rural isolation), with some young people affected by both. For this online network, we brought together grantholders from across the country, to discuss how some of these barriers might be overcome with their participants.

Case Study: Music Fusion

We welcomed two guest speakers to the session, hearing first from Jinx Prowse, Chief Exec of Music Fusion, a grantholder, based in the South East of England. After temporarily closing their recording studio and suspending face to face sessions, they turned their focus to identifying which of their young people they could continue to support remotely, and how they could so whilst adhering to guidelines around social distancing.

The team have trialled various options, from song writing sessions over WhatsApp, to singing lessons conducted from participant’s gardens. By far the most successful however, is their Studio in a Box. A home studio kit, including a MacBook with Logic Pro, microphone, box shield and soundcard is delivered to young people’s homes and collected again after 72 hours. Young people are trusted to set up, and operate equipment themselves, and outcomes have been overwhelmingly positive; two young people recorded an EP and an album respectively.

Once collected, the box is placed in a black bin bag, and returned to the empty studio for a further 72 hours, before being thoroughly cleaned and sent on to another young person.

When developing new means of working, Jinx highlighted the need for consultation with staff, young people, parents and carers – without whom the Studio in a Box idea never would have come about. “No idea is a stupid idea” he said, “and be prepared to go the extra mile- literally- our next delivery involves a 110-mile round trip”.

You can find out more about Music Fusion’s Studio in a Box here.

Case Study: Irene Taylor Trust

Navigating a different set of complex circumstances is Jake, Creative Programmes Director at Irene Taylor Trust who work with young people in prisons across the country. Many young people are confined to their cells for up to 23 hours a day, struggling with boredom and a due to skeleton staffing structures, a reduction in interaction with others.

Usual online platforms can’t be utilised, and instrument and equipment loans aren’t permitted, forcing the Irene Taylor Team to think creatively about how to maintain engagement. Music making will be temporarily replaced by a musical appreciation project, encouraging young people to explore new genres of music and discover new artists. Tasks and discussion points will be sent to participants, encouraging them to build upon their learning.  

Another project currently in the planning stages, is a lyric writing programme in which young people in prisons will be paired with a professional musician on the outside, through physical worksheets sent into their setting, to eventually be recorded using CDs.

Sending Equipment

Sending items to young people’s homes has proven to be successful for some grantholders but won’t be appropriate for all. Music Fusion relied on existing relationships with parents and carers, whilst those partnering with youth services were able to liaise directly with youth workers, who would be responsible for distributing boxes. In other cases, 18-25-year olds may be able to share addresses at their discretion.

Delivering studio equipment is just one example; instrument loans are proving to be popular, as are smaller care packages. Work within your means and think about what your young people need. One organisation is developing a package to include CDs, with a view to sending recordings to a local radio station. Another is looking to create a zine of young people’s lyrics, poems and reflections, sending stamped envelopes to return their submissions.

Understandably, sending equipment posed some questions around safeguarding, for more information visit our online resource hub here, or speak with your Grants and Learning Officer.

Digital Support

Whilst this session focussed on offline learning, finding ways around internet issues inevitably arose. Some grantholders have purchased data packages for families with poor internet using existing personal bursaries set aside for travel and sustenance, whilst other have bought WIFI boosters for young people in rural areas.

Dan Axon, who runs a recording studio in Leeds shared this post on the network after buying four Tascams for participants, enabling them to record remotely, and send files straight from the device – ideal for young people without laptops or computers.

Utilising Partnerships

During lockdown, partnership working is as important as ever. If you’re unable to reach your usual participants due to restrictions in alternative settings, consider whether you’re in a position to deliver training sessions or resource packs for play leaders, youth workers or teaching staff, to distribute.

If you deliver in schools, speak to teachers to find out how you can support children both in school and at home. Online sessions can be shown at school, and shared via a virtual learning platform, but teachers may also be able to post physical resources and worksheets home.

Whilst acknowledging that now might not be the time for exploring new partnerships, we discussed this initiative in Manchester, curating cross artform resource packs for young people. Pooling resources and ideas may lead to audience development, and opportunities to deliver in new ways.

To summarise, we acknowledged that there’s no right or wrong approach to tackling the barriers posed by COVID-19. Take time to plan, be prepared to pilot new ideas, and allow yourself a moment to reflect. Don’t forget to continue consulting with your young people, and don’t underestimate the impact of your support.

Finally, we’d like to express our thanks to everyone who has attended and contributed to our online networks so far. Individually, we may not have the answers to the issues COVID-19 throws at us, but a hive mind can help us tackle problems one step at a time.