Access Fund in focus: Soundcastle

Access Fund in focus: Soundcastle

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BY: Guest Writer
19 Oct 2015

This week Jenni Parkinson from Soundcastle writes about a community project delivered last year following their successful Access Fund grant application which allowed Arts Award to be offered free for young peopleJenni tells us how the Soundcastle team integrated Explore into their delivery with positive results!

In 2014 we offered Arts Award Explore as an optional extra element to our family community project Musical Beacons.  The project is based in a community centre in a Tower Hamlets social housing estate, and families with children of all ages attend weekly sessions to compose their own music inspired by their local area and identity.

We offered Arts Award as a way to encourage participants to attend every week, and therefore be able to recognise and celebrate their progress and achievements.  Nine young people between the ages of 5 and 10 took up this opportunity, and committed to staying an extra half an hour after the sessions each week for one term.  During this extra time we facilitated extension activities, such as opportunities to interview professional musicians, and allowed time for reflection and documenting of their work in the main sessions to build the Arts Award portfolio.


Part A of Explore encourages young people to participate in a variety of activities, discovering and identifying what inspires them.  Whole group activities included: trying new instruments such as keyboards, ukuleles and iPads; storytelling through music; and writing our own ceilidh style music and dance.  The Arts Award element came in supporting young people, especially the under 7’s, to articulate what had inspired them.  We found it helpful to break this down into simple ideas:

  • Did it make you feel excited?
  • Did it give you lots of ideas?
  • Do you want to do it again?

Rebecca, aged 5, shared with a Soundcastle facilitator how she came to understand her own inspiration.  Rebecca was able to explain why the drums were her favourite instrument – “When they go fast and low, they go quiet and loud” – before explaining that she would like to keep playing “in the Olympic Park, with my Dad.”


Each week we had a performance from a guest musician, who was then interviewed by the young people about their careers and art forms.  The highlight was a visit from members of musical theatre company Showstopper, who take ideas from the audience and spontaneously improvise a show.  The following week our team of young people made a film explaining the process and modelling it themselves, with great enthusiasm!  These intimate performances encouraged young people to find out more about the artists themselves:

  • “Showstopper was amazing since we shouted out a word and they made a performance from our word.” (Ben, age 10)
  • “My favourite thing that inspired me was Emily playing the violin because I play the violin in school and I can learn more!” (Tanya, age 10) 
  • “Guest musicians and performers bridged the gap and helped link Musical Beacons to the music world. (Young people) loved asking questions and understanding the wider musical world.” (Rachel Perrin, Soundcastle facilitator)

Create and Present

Over several weeks the young people worked in teams in the main music sessions to compose their own songs, choosing the musical structure and instruments they wished to use. Each week they wrote and drew pictures to document their creative process, so that they could see how their ideas grew into fully-formed songs. We taught the singing parts to the whole participant group, so that at the end everyone could perform and celebrate the music together before reviewing their journey:

  • “The best bit was showing our music to other people.” (Khalima, age 8)
  • “I like Musical Beacons because it is so fun and interesting. I have learnt so much about instruments, and how to play them, but not only that, I learnt how much fun and exciting life as a musician can be. My friend and me were very glad to be together, throughout the term, playing balafon. We loved making the songs, because we could share ideas with everyone.” (Maria, age 8)FatherSon

A Positive Journey

The Arts Award journey gave our team of young people a tangible and motivating way to progress and develop their music-making, and celebrate their achievements. However there were also many other benefits to this experience: 

  • Learning and inspiration – through meeting other musicians and exploring different instruments, young people began to understand the wider musical world and consider their own future within it.
  • Building a team spirit – working together in the extended session each week gave them a feeling of being part of something special. Some attended the same school, and became friends even across a wide age gap.
  • Encouraging pride in their work – young people enjoyed personalising their logbooks and having them as a document of everything they had done. They felt a strong sense of ownership over their journey and the music they made.

We found that the addition of Arts Award enhanced the learning, inspiration and enthusiasm of our participants, offering an exciting pathway within our informal setting. It allowed young people of different backgrounds to progress with their music-making in line with their own interests and identities.

Next steps

Musical Beacons is now up and running for another year, supported by Youth Music. As returning families and new recruits come together to create new music, we will offer Arts Award Explore to another cohort, who will undoubtedly be mentored by those who have already achieved this. As we are now also joined by a strong contingent of Foundation Stage children we will be introducing the Discover Award into our sessions. Our proudest holder of an Explore Award, aged 5, has already opted to complete this a second time, continuing her explorations into new activities and new sources of inspiration.

Jenni Parkinson is Co-Director of Soundcastle

Soundcastle are a social enterprise who promote and enhance community wellbeing and cohesion through inclusive creative music-making. We put participants at the heart of our projects, encouraging them to express and celebrate individual and community identity and stories. We aim to provide meaningful access to culture in areas where there may be barriers preventing this, encouraging people to create their own living arts and music through active engagement. 

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