Chris Morris is the lead practitioner in our project working with young people in Youth Justice Settings and one of our exceptional music leaders, and he works with some of the nation’s most vulnerable young people so that they can discover, explore and develop their musical and creative potential. He works in Yorkshire’s Secure Children’s Homes developing new approaches, methods of delivery and has a great impact. Thanks to his dedication and skill, music is now embedded as part of the culture in both Homes, with both resident young people and staff believing that “music days are the best days”. Chris is a flexible and multi-talented musician who supports young people to find their own musical pathway and horizons, from playing the violin to DJ skills. He is trusted and respected by young people who have had poor education and life chances so far, and who experience barriers to learning, social interaction and self-belief.  Many of the young people who have worked with Chris have found their musical voice and a renewed belief in their own potential. He has brought in fellow music leaders and supported their practice as they learn how to work effectively with challenged and challenging young people, and he does all this with an empathetic, calm, and good-humoured disposition.

Chris is an active community musician in and around Sheffield. He’s helped to set up recording studios for community use, organises music events and Festivals and is a guide and mentor to many young musicians in the city.

Chris has worked on the Youth Justice project with us from the very beginning, and as well as giving us a bit of context with his own musical background, he’s shared a brief insight into working on the YJ project with these often vulnerable children.

Chris says:

“As a child, I had violin lessons and was a member of the church choir and school orchestra. These were invaluable as a foundation to my career in music, but I can’t really say I enjoyed them or was inspired by them. I struggled with reading music, and it seemed too bound in formality and having to play ‘correctly’, lacking the fun and adventure I’d get from climbing trees and mucking about with my friends. It wasn’t until I was introduced to contemporary music by friends that I suddenly saw the potential in my musical skills. At 13, I bought my first electric guitar and threw myself into forming bands and writing music. I loved the experimentation, exploration and the excitement of expressing myself.”

“I continued my creative journey through art college, learning new skills in Film, Photography, Performance and Sound Design, but it was always music at the centre of everything. At the same time, I became involved in the increasingly exciting and ground-breaking UK dance music scene of the 90s. I taught myself how to produce and record music and picked up other instruments along the way, including drums, synthesisers, bass, percussion.”

“It was this process that also led me to working as a creative arts practitioner, sharing the joys and benefits of the creative process with young people in need of these experiences. I co-founded ‘Musical Works’; an organisation facilitating contemporary and multicultural music workshops for young people.”

“I became a father of two sons, who were both diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and this led me to explore the need for creative provision for the learning difficulty community. I helped create the ‘Under the Stars’ music workshops for Adults with Learning Difficulties and in 2016 I studied for an MA in Music Psychology.”

“Since 2014, I have worked with Yorkshire Youth and Music as a music practitioner in Secure Units to vulnerable young people at risk. Music activity provides them with opportunities to explore alternative means of expression, learning and personal development and is a constantly changing and engaging area of work. It is very satisfying to be able to draw on every aspect of my musical experience to support these young people in negotiating their complex and challenging lives.”

Chris’ Insight: a Snapshot of Music Provision for Young People in Secure Care Homes

Over the course of the years that Yorkshire Youth and Music’s project has been running, there has been a significant increase in music provision in secure units in Leeds and Sheffield due to the successes in the engagement of young people and the development of a positive music ‘culture’. Young people arriving at the units we work in discover an environment in which making music is a norm, and time in the music room is highly valued.

Since the commencement of this programme, and based very much on the success of the project, the centres involved have invested heavily in music equipment and, in one case, have constructed a specialist music studio.

The delivery of music provision is designed around the individual needs and ambitions of the young people: educational and instrumental activity, diversionary activity, and therapeutic and cathartic activity.

The range of activities on offer is wide including:

  • instrumental tuition on drums, guitar, bass, keyboard, violin, vocals, percussion
  • computer music production / recording skills
  • song-writing / lyrics
  • group music making
  • composition
  • active Listening
  • performance skills

Young people are offered ‘one to one’ or small group activity, based on their confidence, shared skills, interest and appropriateness.

Music sessions are delivered within the education timetable at each unit and also as an after school activity. Young people who show ambition and responsibility are also allowed to access the considerable music room facilities in the evenings and weekends.

Music provision provides the notion of ‘value’ to the secure setting, where ideas, skill, determination, expression and talent are respected, encouraged and facilitated in a ‘safe’ and non-judgemental environment.

It is interesting to note that as music provision in schools seems to be in an increasingly sparse and desperate state, those managing the secure units regard music activity as an essential ingredient in providing a balanced and nurturing environment for their vulnerable and troubled young people.