My name's Jon Clark, an MC and artist practitioner at AudioActive where I run Room to Rant. An 'alternative support group' for vulnerable young men to come and express themselves through talking, writing, rapping and freestyling to process what they are going through. Sessions are led by me and local freestyle legend MC Gramski with the help of a YMCA Mental Health professional, Alan, who supports with safeguarding and one to one support.
Here's a little film we made with our patron Rag n Bone man showing how the project normally runs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSWad-KS9Dk
In the run up to lockdown there was a small window where we knew what was coming and would have to be ready for it. The 8 members are from myriad backgrounds, some living on the street, some in sheltered accommodation, others still at home and we wanted to make sure they weren't left in the lurch by lockdown. The final session was bittersweet because participants had been getting so much from the group and we weren't sure when or if we would next meet.
On the suggestion of Alan, we trialled meeting up online using Discord, a gaming chat platform, to see if we could at least simulate the togetherness of Room to Rant. At the time it seemed like a token gesture but we had to try something. On the first session, only one of the eight showed up but as the weeks continued and I persisted in messaging, keeping people in the loop, the online group grew. Sometimes, the lag would mean that we switched off our webcams and just communicated through audio. The interesting development was that for some members, they seemed even more in their element with the visual turned off. People who would be typically more quiet in the group were suddenly communicative which is giving us a stronger group cohesion. At the moment we have 4 original members and 1 new face as well as the 3 of us leading. Each Thursday night we meet, have a check in about how everyone is handling the situation and then we rap. Someone will suggest a beat which we link everyone up with in the message thread and then, from the feel of the music, a theme is agreed on and we all write for 20 minutes until ,finally, we showcase what we've written to each other and put it all together. We have a different area of expertise we focus on each week, from freestyle masterclasses to keeping the same rhyme scheme for 16 bars, to production feedback and even ingenious quizzes run by Gramski.
We are still reaching out to those who haven't appeared yet but as the vibe grows, more people are coming through. Two of our members, expressed it well;
'Room to Rant has really come at the best time. When I was at my worst it helped me pick myself up, helped me confront my mental health, using music and rapping to vent and get out how I'm feeling. I could praise more but overall they create a happy place for me and others to express ourselves and feel safe'.
Jose Antonio a.k.a GraySkyline had this to say...
'Room to Rant provides me with a safe space to share my emotions and experiences through conversation and musical expression. Recently the format had to change drastically because of the current crisis however the staff and members have adapted quickly through online sessions that still provide everyone with the same sense of community and laid back attitude to get anything off your chest'.
We are lucky to have these resources to meet with whilst in isolation. It also suggests an innovative new dynamic in which socially anxious people in our communities might become more included in the future. I'm looking forward to this Thursday. We'll talk, laugh, rap, take the mick out of each other and bang saucepans for the NHS when 8 o clock rolls around. It's something healthy and powerful!