As an arts and community-orientated organisation, inclusion is a word we hear a lot. Diversity and inclusion can be lofty terms, with high (and admittedly well intended) ideals, but can quickly lose meaning when these words are used in an inappropriate context or when they become tokenistic.

Here at YY&M, our projects are a vital part of our over-arching commitment to inclusion. But what does inclusion mean for us?

Inclusion for us is about valuing difference and designing our projects so that all young people are able to participate, even when they are living in or through incredibly challenging circumstances. We often work with young people who have little or no experience of participating in culture, so we design music making activities that work for them. We recognise that young people may have discovered their own cultural influences already, but they rarely have had access to the expertise, role models or tools to learn how to make their own creative and cultural contributions.

We describe our work as inclusive, because it increases access to music-making for young people who might otherwise not get the chance. Each of our projects is designed for, and with, young people, to meet their needs. This image describes this philosophy very succinctly:

A cartoon to demonstrate the difference between equality and equity. Equality is three men of different heights getting the same sized box to stand on (to watch a sporting event over a fence). Equity is the tall man having no box, the mid sized man getting one box and the short man getting two boxes, which allows all the men to have the same view of the event.

We recognise that different young people have different needs, due to their background, their history and / or their experiences. Inclusion is about acknowledging differences and providing the means to overcome the barriers that prevent these children from participating in music making opportunities.

Our projects for D/deaf/F young people, for example, are initially led by deaf professional musicians who can also sign, and all activities are suitable for young people who are D/deaf/F or hearing impaired. BSL is often the primary language of sessions, and sometimes there is little, or even no, verbal speech. Alongside these introductory sessions, we have also trained mainstream staff at Music Services across the region, so that D/deaf/F children can continue to have lessons alongside hearing children, should they wish to continue playing an instrument. We tailor the sessions for the children and offer opportunities for them to access mainstream services that did not exist prior to our involvement.

This year, we are running a project with boys from the Roma community, using authentic music from the Roma culture and community as a starting point for song-writing and musical exploration. The project is working towards a performance event in Sheffield around Easter time. We are always conscious of sharing resources and songs in foreign languages, without translation, especially if we don’t speak those languages, which is why we strive to find and trace authentic music. If you’re interested in finding and using Roma songs with accurate translations, please have a look at the ‘more resources’ section of the website.

For many years, we have also worked with young people with significant disabilities, using and adapting mainstream music technology to support their music making. We use a button pad (typically used by DJs) as a sound board for children who have limited mobility and dexterity, repurposing widely used tech in a way that makes music making much more accessible for these young people.

Inclusive music-making for us is about making access easy, enjoyable and rewarding, and allowing everyone to join in.