Striking a social chord: music in community engagement and regeneration

by Laura Dobie

dj decksThe 2014 Commonwealth Games are drawing to a close in Glasgow, and in addition to all the sporting action that is taking place in the city, the Games have acted as a catalyst for a wide range of cultural events. Perhaps one of the most ambitious in scale was the Big Big BIG Sing, which took place on Glasgow Green on 27th July, with a day-long programme of varied events, from beatboxing to Gaelic singing. In this article, we take a closer look at the Big Big BIG Sing and a couple of other projects in local communities across the UK, which are putting music centre stage in community engagement and regeneration.

The Big Big BIG Sing, led by the Glasgow UNESCO City of Music initiative Big Big Sing, kicked off at 8am before the start of the Commonwealth Games marathon race. Big Big Sing aims to encourage people across the UK to sing to celebrate the Commonwealth Games, offering opportunities to sing in a choir to all, and it promotes singing both for pleasure, and for its social and wellbeing benefits. The event was attended by over 40,000 people who participated in a range of activities, including a musicals marathon, singing workshops across a range of cultures and music genres, and Scotland’s biggest pop-up choir.

Director Sven Brown highlighted that singing, like sport, can provide a feelgood factor, and links with sport were clear at the event, with taster sessions in activities such as athletics, ­cycling, hockey, judo and table tennis. In addition to organising events to encourage people to sing, regardless of their experience, Big Big Sing is also campaigning for a UK-wide singing strategy to allow more people to reap the social, health and wellbeing rewards of singing.

This focus on the potential of music to bring communities together is also reflected in the work of the Sistema Scotland charity. It aims to transform people’s lives through music, founded on the belief that children can derive significant social benefits from playing in a symphony orchestra. They have two Big Noise orchestras, in Raploch Stirling and Govanhill, Glasgow, and have plans to open more centres across Scotland.

A Scottish Government-commissioned independent evaluation of Big Noise Raploch concluded that the project is having a beneficial effect on children’s personal and social development, and a survey of parents conducted as part of the evaluation revealed that many felt that their children were more confident (100%), happier (93%), more willing to concentrate (79%), and were better behaved (43%).

The project was shortlisted in the Creative Regeneration category of the 2013 SURF Awards for Best Practice in Community Regeneration, with judges praising its vision and ambition, immersed engagement of the target community and engagement of the wider community through its adult orchestra and ‘take a musician home for tea’ initiative.

Kathleen McPhail, a musician working in Big Noise Raploch, comments, “It’s fantastic to be part of such an energetic, creative and socially-driven team not only in Raploch, but across the whole of Sistema Scotland.”  She enjoys having the opportunity to work with the children in Raploch day-to-day, who she says are talented, fun and hard-working, if occasionally challenging! Kathleen’s particular highlights from the project this year include the joint Big Noise Govanhill and Raploch Orchestra’s participation in the Opening Ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, and the Raploch Symphony Orchestra trip to Caracas, Venezuela. Summing up her experiences working with the children over the past two years, Kathleen concludes, “I do believe the work we do is having a positive, and even transformative, impact on their lives. It’s a real privilege, and inspiration, to see the children develop and learn every day.”

It is clear that the charity is having a beneficial impact in areas of Scotland which face a range of social challenges, such as high rates of unemployment, poor health, substandard housing, low educational attainment and a lack of opportunity.

Another project linking music with community regeneration is Making Music and Sound Sense’s Vocality programme. This involved the development of community choirs in eight deprived areas across England: Mablethorpe, Lincolnshire; Brent, London (Chalkhill Estate); Barton and Tredworth, Gloucester; Whitehawk and Woodingdean, East Brighton; Torbay; Newport, Gwent; Riverside and Grangetown, Cardiff; and Kirklees.

The programme aimed to support these choirs to become self-sustaining, and to highlight the potential contribution of community choirs to personal and community development.

Benefits identified included:

  • the enjoyment for individuals derived from the singing activities
  • increased wellbeing and confidence
  • the projects appealed to people who did not typically participate in community activities
  • building social inclusion
  • building respect and trust
  • giving a voice to marginalised groups, such as refugees and asylum seekers.

The programme also had a positive impact on participating organisations, raising their profile and allowing them to pilot different activities, and on the wider community, by contributing to and acting as a catalyst for other community events.

While there has been much focus on the benefits of sporting activities in community engagement and regeneration, and eyes will be firmly on the sporting legacy of the Commonwealth Games in a city which is battling health inequalities, it is clear that music projects can also play an important part in engaging people across communities in activities which are rewarding and inclusive, and can yield significant social and wellbeing benefits.

The Idox Information Service has a wealth of research reports, articles, case studies and evaluations on community engagement and regeneration. Items we’ve recently summarised for our database include:

N.B. Abstracts and full text access to subscription journal articles are only available to members of the Idox Information Service. For more information on the service, click here.

3 thoughts on “Striking a social chord: music in community engagement and regeneration

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