‘It’s all about getting people out of those four walls’ at Norwich music project
PUBLISHED: 18:00 21 February 2017 | UPDATED: 18:06 24 February 2017
Archant Norfolk 2017
A group which aims to improve people’s mental health through music has rocked its way to success to help more people than ever.
And members of the Black Dog Music Project, in Norwich, said sessions have improved their confidence and self-esteem.
The group - based at Earth Studios, in Salhouse Road - provides a venue where twice a week, people can go to learn how to play instruments, jam with other musicians, and even play gigs.
It has been going since 2008, but for the last three years 77-year-old Colin Bain has been at the helm.
He said: “It all stemmed back to the Hellesdon Hospital, where they found people liked to play instruments to help them cope.”
Mr Bain got involved through his son Gavin, who is a volunteer for the project, and was later voted in as chairman.
“A lot of the music I can’t stand,” he said. “But my payment is seeing the smiles on their faces. We have five bands on at the moment, some people don’t turn sometimes, others do, but that’s fine.”
But he said it was not only about playing music, but also getting people out of their homes and socialising. This was especially true for 31-year-old Gareth Hopkins.
He said: “It’s a really good project, they do help people and it gives you a sense of purpose - if I wasn’t here I’d probably just be in my room.”
Another service user, John Jolley, said he had started coming along for his own wellbeing, but ended up staying on as a volunteer.
Mr Jolley, 41, said: “I’ve been coming for about two and a half years as something positive to do with my time. I wasn’t working when I joined and it gives me an opportunity to use my own abilities - I play most instruments - and I can help others.”
Another volunteer, Darryl Andrews, started off as a service user too, but now he helps run sessions in soundproof practice rooms.
Mr Andrews, who is blind and has been playing guitar since he was 13, said: “It’s nice to see people coming along and see their confidence grow so they can get up on stage.”
Thanks to a £750 grant from Comic Relief, the project has been able to set up a website and distribute leaflets, raising much-needed awareness for the music sessions.
But Earth Studios owner John Fisher said there was more to it than coming to learn to play an instrument, or brushing up on old skills.
Mr Fisher, who has run the studio for 13 years, said: “It’s about life skills. Music is about learning to compromise, having a work ethic, working together - if you don’t turn up it matters to other people. It’s all about getting people out of the those four walls.”
He said the opportunity to play at showcases, in groups or individually, helped people come out of their shell. And although they were often nervous, the supportive atmosphere of the group meant they had the confidence to perform.
“And the characters you get - the people who come here are the most lovely, unassuming people. With the backgrounds some people have, it does affect their self confidence and their self worth, but they are amazing.”
He added he would encourage anyone to get involved.
“It’s such a fun group, with a fun atmosphere,” he said.
• Anyone interested in joining the group can get in contact by visiting www.theblackdogmusicproject.co.uk or calling 07850 494218.
• Deserving community groups like The Black Dog Music Project shared almost £40,000 in charity cash last year, distributed by this newspaper in association with the Norfolk Community Foundation and Comic Relief – and this year we’ve teamed up again. If your group would benefit from a grant of up to £1,000, more details will be announced on March 24.