Partly political broadcast

This week, I had planned to write a blog post breaking my own rule and talk about politics, briefly, with regards to the EU referendum, which has pretty much dominated conversations online and off for the last month, and frankly made it tricky to concentrate on getting any artwork done. On Wednesday, when there was a jolly scene on boats on the Thames, I’d got everything lined up ready to write. And then, as I’m sure you know, events took a much darker turn. As a result, I’ve chosen not to wade into things, but instead to tell a little story about how I became a teacher, and the EU’s surprising part in it all.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, I ran a record label called Wasp Factory Recordings, which was successful in every way except financially. We had not one person on our crew who was any good at sales, but despite this we had some brilliant adventures, played some legendary shows and put out some amazing albums, a significant number of which are still in my mum’s loft. Whilst running the label, I was doing a lot of other music related things at the same time – working as a sound and lighting engineer, booking bands for showcase gigs, and producing the odd demo for local acts. All good fun, but none of which did appreciably more than pay the bills.

Whilst booking a room for a band to record their demo in – a local community centre with some recording equipment neglected in a corner – I enquired as to who was in charge of the space, and was told that the previous manager had left, that the funding to renovate the space was available but they didn’t have anyone who could continue the project, and was I interested in helping out? I grabbed the chance with both hands and gave it a hug. This turned out to be the beginning of my current career path, and within a couple of months I was working with local bands, and then students excluded from school and young offenders.

Then one day I saw an advert asking for someone to manage a music project going into schools and working in pupil referral units (PRUs), with NEETs (those not in education, employment or training) and other youngsters having a tough time at school. To my delight and surprise, I aced the interview and thus was born the In Tune project, based at Stroud College. For the next 2 years I worked with an awesome team running what I still regard as one of the best projects I have worked on. We would go into schools and PRUs for 3 weeks at a time, working with the students that other teachers were struggling to engage or, in some cases I’m sad to report, had given up on. Through a mixture of enthusiasm, naivete and a cavalier approach to the qualification I was supposed to be teaching, we were incredibly successful at re-engaging those we worked with, and many of them went on to study music or work in the creative industries. We gave 200 young people at risk of dropping out of education – and in some cases, society – the opportunity to be part of a team working together on something creative, and for the many, this was one of the few positive educational experiences they had since leaving Primary school.

And here’s the key bit – this project was funded by the EU, via the European Social Fund, which gave grants specifically to help underprivileged people across Europe. Without it, there would have been no In Tune project, and I doubt if I would have been given the opportunity to go on and become a qualified teacher and continue to be an advocate for providing transformative experiences for those facing barriers to mainstream education. The money we got was generous, and although there were intended outcomes (which we exceeded), we were given a level of freedom to run the project how we thought would work best, the likes of which I have not experienced since in my teaching career. Looking back, it remains a brilliant model on how music projects can be run and how massive their impact can be.

We’ve heard a lot over the last month or so about the EU, the supposed costs and ‘red tape’, but not enough has been said about all the positive work the EU funds for those who have had less opportunity in life. They have quietly and without fanfare provided a significant amount of money and assistance which has helped to change people’s lives, and in many cases plugged the gaps that have been left by recent government funding cuts. If we leave the EU, we will not be able to access this funding, and the work that I and countless others do for those in vulnerable situations could be severely compromised.

If you’ve made up your mind about the referendum, I’m not going to try and convince you to change it. However, if you haven’t decided yet, or are not fussed either way, I have a simple request – please consider those less fortunate than yourself when deciding how to vote on Thursday.

I think we achieve much greater things when we collaborate and work together than when we compete.