2020 was a difficult year for us all.

In the Music Education sector, it quickly became clear that musical provision for children and young people wouldn’t (in most cases) be able to happen last year in quite the same ways as it had done previously. Whether you were an individual teacher or worked for an arts organisation, you will have had to adapt, many times, in the face of an ever-changing environment. We, therefore, would like to recognise the ingenuity and tenacity of those all working alongside us in the field; you have kept going despite the challenges presented, in difficult circumstances – so give yourself some praise where praise is due!

Technology has obviously become one, short-term answer to the question of how to carry on in some form or other during the pandemic, and here at YY&M, we are grateful to have had the financial support to try new ways of delivering our projects, including making instructional videos and delivering sessions live online.

But what if the children you work with have very limited access to technology and what if you knew that musical activity was key in preventing a certain set of young people’s mental health from declining even further? Sometimes, in certain circumstances, the choice to continue is the best choice, because the benefits outweigh the reasons for minimising or stopping contact altogether. So… do you continue face to face provision during a pandemic and if so, how do you make it happen?

Our Music with Young People in Youth Justice Settings project works with two of the most secure children’s units in Yorkshire, running weekly musical sessions that give structure, routine, an outlet or ‘voice’ and other crucial benefits (in addition to developing their musical skills) to young people who have been brought into secure accommodation. These children are some of the most vulnerable we encounter and come from incredibly challenging circumstances and backgrounds, which is only made more difficult during an international pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. Despite being incredibly resilient young people, they still need crucial, regular, face to face support from mentors and teachers they admire. Music is a medium which allows and encourages these young people to connect with teachers from a range of backgrounds, with skills that the children would like to learn themselves.

Because of this, both secure settings expressed a clear need for the musical activity for these young people to continue, in person. In an environment where a young person’s contact with their family and / or guardians became non-existent at worst and ad hoc at best, and where managing behaviour is a constant challenge for secure centre staff, the regular activity put in place by our project leaders was sought after more than ever before. Not only do our musical sessions provide routine and structured activity, they are engaging, enjoyable and a vital outlet for these children – a way of processing how they feel and what they are going through in healthier ways and more importantly, in their own words. We talk often about why ‘Music Makes Lives Better’, and in this case, we feel the ‘why’ is very clearly demonstrated. Music is one of the only lifelines for these young people and we wanted to enable that to continue, particularly as times get harder for us all.

To carry on the project as normally as possible during lockdown, YY&M project facilitators, YY&M staff and secure centre staff have continued to work in close partnership, in order to develop a set of COVID standards that would allow the sessions to continue safely. Our precautions include (but are not limited to): the young people within the centres being in a ‘bubble’ together, equipment regularly sanitised, staff being regularly tested, any COVID-like symptoms reported immediately, and sessions run by one of our experienced Youth Justice leaders. Because we already have the ability (as a small organisation) to work flexibly and respond quickly, we have implemented various safeguards to keep the children and all staff as safe and healthy as possible, and so far, it is working well.

We’d like to say a massive thank you to all the staff, music leaders and young people in both taking part and keeping this project available and accessible to the children involved, especially in this most challenging of times!

Finally, watch out for our COVID guide to adapting in various ways to this environment – coming soon to the website…