If you catch St Vincent & the Grenadines 2nd Generation in action at the Roundhouse Centre in High Wycombe, Bucks., you’ll be greeted by the glorious sound of steel pans.
And with a group who range in age from seven to 80-plus, you’ll hear a wide range of music from calypso classics such as Hot Hot Hot to Estelle and Kanye West’s American Boy.
Their Community Connections project is a beautiful collaboration between the generations, where people can talk, play music and make new friends.
“Even if people don’t play the steel pans, they’ll come for a chinwag and a laugh and a joke,” says project member Jacqueline.
“What we do is empowering and led by our members. They’re confident about saying what they like and don’t like. It’s a safe, warm place to meet and talk, which is particularly important during the cost-of-living crisis.”
Around 40 people turn up to the weekly steel pan music sessions and some younger ones learn music theory online.
The group had to adapt during Covid, delivering steel pans to members’ homes so they could still play.
Jacqueline is sensitive to what the community needs – and when.
“It was hard during lockdown and the community was also affected by the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement,” she says.
“In Buckinghamshire we had an increase of suicides in young people, so it was important to try and engage with the younger generation.
“We’re also seeing the stark reality of the effects of health inequalities such as problems accessing care and poverty that’s been exacerbated by the price of gas and electricity, which we already knew were there, but with the immense support from funds raised through The Health Lottery we can bring people together and improve their wellbeing. We’ve found our own niche and the funding will help us do more.”
At the moment, that means music and listening circles, but Jacqueline plans to bring in guest speakers. One of the things she wants to talk more about is self-care and, as she says, “just giving people that hour to pause.”
But that hour is so powerful for the participants – a “lifeline” to people like 17-year-old Sherina. As one of the younger members who’s now taking up a leadership role in the group, Sherina has found it invaluable for her mental health.
“Going to steel pan is my happy place,” says Sherina, who started playing when she was nine years old.
“It’s where I talk to the other age groups. During Covid, we had our online lessons but you need to be there talking to have a vibe going on.
“A few years ago I was in a low spot, so I dipped out of steel pans for a while, but when I came back again I was so grateful to have the opportunity to do it. It’s where I get to be myself.”
The music and welcoming atmosphere makes the project a truly cross-generational activity.
“It’s all happy music – just talking about it brings joy,” says Jacqueline. “Across all age groups it’s about coming together. For some of our younger people, this is an activity they don’t have with their school friends, so they’re making new ones.
“We don’t try and give history lectures, but they’re learning about their heritage and culture. I think for the older generation it’s about decreasing isolation and making new friendships.
“We have a large population of Vincentians and I’ve seen the progression as people make friends and start to talk about their issues.
"This year, people are getting back to normal – they’re out and about and asking to do more. Thanks to funding from The Health Lottery, we can put on more events.”
And Jacqueline has a clear message of thanks to everyone who plays The Health Lottery, boosting projects like this: “This funding is a lifeline. Every time you support The Health Lottery, the more tickets you buy, the more opportunities can be given to us and other grassroots groups. Thank you so much.”
Community Connections Factfile
Community Connections project run by St Vincent & The Grenadines 2nd Generation
Two-year project for African-Caribbean and Indian-Caribbean community in the Castlefield and Downley areas of High Wycombe, who have been particularly impacted by Covid-19
Grant from funds raised through The Health Lottery of £38,570.00
Bringing people together to learn and develop new skills, increase their confidence and well-being, and tackle anxiety, isolation and depression
Empowering the community to have a collective voice
Weekly music workshops with steel pan instruments
Participants can share stories and heal together