Young people in disadvantaged areas of Harwich who want to be the next Adele or Ed Sheeran might have the talent, but they don’t always get the opportunities they need.
Local charity We Are Music is gradually changing that, offering mentoring, all-important contacts and a professional recording studio on their doorstep.
But at the end of 2021, We Are Music faced closure because funds had run dry after lockdown.
“We did a Christmas show and I thought it would be our last one because we’d run out of money,” says Chairman Trustee Chris Scott.
“We’d been rejected by several funds and we thought that was the end.
“The kids put on such a good show that I got all emotional and I decided we must find a way to continue. I went on a funding crusade. Everyone was going through a tough time after lockdown, so I wasn’t hopeful.”
What Chris and his small team, including project manager Toby Scott, really wanted to do was start a Saturday Club where kids from Harwich and nearby Jaywick could walk in and jam together – and to his relief, he was offered a grant from funds raised through The Health Lottery to make that dream a reality.
“The moment we got that funding, it boosted everybody,” he recalls.
“We knew then we could carry on and it lifted all of us. Before that, we were getting pretty despondent but when the money raised through The Health Lottery came in, things started going right for us.”
We Are Music has helped many young people get into music, learn new skills, and find band members, as well as get a break in the industry with Artists & Repertoire (A&R) contacts and workshops at Decoy Studios in Woodbridge, Suffolk.
It’s clear Chris is passionate about making a real difference.
“Most children getting into music commercially are funded by the bank of mum and dad. That’s impossible for kids in these deprived areas, so we try to bridge that gap, get them started and show them the way forward into the music industry,” he says.
“Even very talented people give up, but we want to give them that chance.”
One young talent who’s benefitted from being a part of We Are Music is 19-year-old Kyle Willats, who left school early during lockdown and now works as a music leader at the project.
“Chris taught me my first power chord when I was seven,” he laughs. “I first started coming here for Rock School. It’s such a nice place to come and play music with your friends. I learn something new every week.
“It’s a safe space, definitely somewhere we can go, chill out and engage in conversation. Coming out of lockdown, it helped my mental health so much. We were all back to doing what we love best.”
It also gave Kyle a career opportunity and now he mentors younger kids.
“I absolutely love teaching,” he says. “We go into primary schools and by the end of six one-hour sessions kids are nailing We Will Rock You. It’s a massive achievement.”
And as project manager Toby points out, youngsters are learning skills that will be useful to them in their careers as well as making new friends.
“We take the students up to Decoy Studios – where Sam Smith, George Ezra and Ed Sheeran have recorded – and they have workshop sessions with talented sound engineers there, so we know when they go for a job they’ll have that advantage and be instantly useful.”
The group put on gigs at the local Kingsway Hall and other venues in Colchester. One of their events at Firstsite saw the star quality of a pre-Eurovision Sam Ryder when he performed early on in his career. They’ve also organised The Simple Things festival to showcase their talents.
But for We Are Music, the small achievements count too.
“One girl was so struck by stage fright she froze in the middle of a performance and one little boy got up and sang with her – and then the whole of Rock School joined in,” says Chris.
“That was so emotional. They’re the moments that are the best because you can see how you’re impacting these kids. Thanks so much to players of The Health Lottery for giving us that push to carry on.”
We Are Music factfile
Founded by Chris Scott
Nurturing new talent and revitalising local music scene
Offers rock band sessions for schools throughout Harwich and Jaywick
Regular drop-in Saturday Club for jamming
Awarded £24,911 raised though Health Lottery East