Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Big Noise is 10

A couple of hundred people were gathered for the 10th birthday bash for Big Noise, a project that had taught music to over 2500 children in Raploch and three more of Scotland's less advantaged communities in Glasgow, Aberdeen and, most recently, Dundee. In each of the locations, there has been a partnership between Sistema Scotland, the Council and local schools. The event was a celebration of a remarkable project that had flourished through the determination of one man in particular. Richard Holloway had been the Bishop of Edinburgh, a lifelong campaigner for social justice and an undeclared polymath. He was inspired by the work of the Venezuelan youth orchestra that had helped shape and inspire the lives of underprivileged children in Venezuela. He brought the concept back to Scotland in 2007 and began a search for somewhere to start a similar project in Scotland.

Sistema Scotland has targeted communities by drawing a line under the past and nurturing a new generation of children who grow up in an environment saturated with intensive and immersive music making. We work with children from birth through to adulthood. While our most obvious triumphs are musical our purpose is to use that music making to equip children with confidence, resilience, ambition, and a multitude of transferable skills to support them across all areas of their lives. The ultimate goal is to boost educational performance, health and wellbeing so that children grow to achieve their full potential, contributing to positive communities with fewer costly problems.

Richard Holloway founded Sistema Scotland with the backing of the Scottish Arts Council, an organisation that he has chaired. He set out in 2007 to search for a disadvantaged community in Scotland that could benefit from its primary objective of providing children with an educational environment through sustained music making. It was happenstance that Stirling Council was approached to work with Sistema Scotland to host what became Big Noise in Raploch. At the time the Council had commissioned a new community campus in the Raploch that would bring together three primary schools, a nursery, a further education facility, and sports hall in a single building that would act as the focal point for the community. It was a significant capital investment for an area that had been stigmatised for decades by its high levels of social and economic deprivation. When Richard Holloway came calling we thought that the Sistema Scotland concept could provide an extra dimension of activities that could amplify and consolidate the health and well-being of the community. The arrival of Sistema Scotland compensated for the Health Board deciding against relocating a health centre on the campus.

The funding allowed the appointment of professional musicians and together with the partnership with the primary schools that had transferred to the campus and the ready availability of rehearsal space, the project began to flourish. A generation of children have taken part in Raploch so far and 107 musicians, both paid and volunteers, have provided the tuition and leadership. It has impacted on many lives, not just the children involved but their parents and the wider community who expressed their appreciation during the celebration.

In his brief but eloquent summary of progress over 10 years, Richard Holloway gave a passionate endorsement of the need to provide opportunities and inculcate ambition amongst all children. He explained how when he was responsible for drilling soldiers during his national service in the army he realised that soldiers always marched better when there was a band at the front. Music inspires and creates a collaborative culture. He had just watched and listened to children from the ages of 4 to 18 years demonstrate the skills and exhibit the self-confidence that they had acquired through their involvement with Big Noise. Several of the older teenagers explained how the project had shaped their lives as they were about to enter further and higher education or take up jobs. For the first time, his voice trembled and the emotions of a man whose humanity has no bounds were shared with the assembled children, parents, teachers, workers and others who had witnessed the delivery of this remarkable project.

An Evaluation of Sistema Scotland was carried out in 2015 by the Glasgow Centre of Population and Health This evaluation strongly endorses Sistema Scotland’s approaches to delivery: the impacts of the programme evidenced at this stage of the evaluation are clear. What is also certain is that Sistema Scotland’s 'Big Noise programme has the potential to significantly enhance participants’ lives, prospects, health and wellbeing through a variety of identified pathways in the long term. Any endorsement of Sistema Scotland is also an endorsement of a range of local partners who contribute to the delivery of Big Noise; the schools deserve considerable recognition for their commitment.'

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