‘Music was the only answer to release the anger’

Simon Glenister of Noise Solution with one of the participants. Picture: lulu@luluash.co.uk

Simon Glenister of Noise Solution with one of the participants. Picture: lulu@luluash.co.uk - Credit: Archant

Young people are helped out of depression and anxiety by a unique music-mentoring scheme

A Suffolk scheme that helps young people out of their mental health crises by harnessing the power of music is now spreading across the region, with plans being drawn up for a national expansion.

Simon Glenister, a folk musician who once played on the main stage at Glastonbury with his former band, Tuung, formed Noise Solutions in 2009 in Bury St Edmunds as a way to transform the way young people facing challenging circumstances feel about themselves.

He is using the musical skills he’d built up in his 25-year music career, as well as his experiences working in Youth Offending, to deliver the programme.

It has now become so successful that Mr Glenister employs 14 freelance musician tutors and four core staff to deliver his programme across East Anglia.

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Noise Solution’s clients are marginalized youth such as those dealing with anxiety and school phobias as well as prolific offenders, NEETs (not in education, employment or training) and those facing mental health crises. “We can go to them wherever they are and focus on music technology as a way of engaging them,” explained Mr Glenister.

“The most important thing when you’re working with young people facing challenging circumstances is to make them realize they’re good at something - then you start to impact on their sense of self.

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“That’s what drives change, not just doing CVs and pushing them out for a job interview for a job they’re not going to sustain.”

How it works

As well as teaching and guiding young people to use technology to make music, Noise Solution has a social media platform that captures their musical successes as digital vlogs.

“You’re then projecting out this positive picture of something successful happening, rather than doing what most local authorities and statutory organisations do which is focus on the problems,” said Mr Glenister. “When that young person sees that positive third party validation, that starts impacting on how they feel about themselves.”

The epidemic of self-harming girls

According to a recent report by The Children’s Society, 22% of 14 year old girls had self harmed in the course of a year, a figure that Mr Glenister describes as “hideous.”

Noise Solution’s operations director Damian Ribbans claims that their programme is “massively more impactful with 14 year old girls than any other group.”

“We absolutely know that we are twice as impactful on young women as we are on young men,” said Mr Glenister.

“I think they are starting from a lower starting point because of the way we as a society treat young women and the messages that they’re subjected to. So any engagement is going to raise their subjective wellbeing.

“I also think young boys take up a lot more space when technology is offered in educational environments, so often, young women are excluded from that. This is an opportunity for them to engage in something they’ve been unable to get close to.”

‘Music released the anger’

A mother of one girl explained that her daughter was in a “bad, dark place in her life” before she joined the music programme four years ago. She explained: “My daughter was suffering from mental illness, and dealing with grief. Music was the only answer to release the anger of the grief she was suffering when her father died. If it wasn’t for Noise Solution, she wouldn’t be the talented artist she is today.”

Proving it works

Mr Glenister undertook a Masters of Education from University of Cambridge to understand how to measure the psychological impact of his organisation’s work, and using a benchmarkable ‘wellbeing scale’, he charts the progress of his participants. He claims that 40% of them go on to progress into voluntary and education placements.

He claims that music technology succeeds because it promotes a sense of competency “really quickly.”

“Music technology bypasses all the issues that traditional music education has, because you don’t have to be able to read notes, learn scales or any of that stuff,” he said.

“Music education is very narrow in its approach - I don’t read a note of music and most of the people I know in that musical world don’t either. I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve come across who have said they’re not musical because of their restricted experiences in music education.”

Roping in the corporates

Noise Solution has a relationship with Anglian Water, which produced a film about their work that was shown in front of 1,000 businesses recently at the Royal Albert Hall for the Responsible Business in the Community Awards.

Mr Glenister wants to develop relationships with other corporates, too, but not in the traditional CSR sense.

“Its not just that classic message of ‘we’re a poor charity, please help us,’ its quid pro quo,” he explained. “We’ve got a lot of learning about well being, which is applicable across the board, whether you’re a charity, a social enterprise or a company.

“With Anglian water, we’ve talked to them about wellbeing and there’s been learnings there that have been useful for them as well. We presented at a conference they were running around wellbeing and there are plans for us to conduct training sessions for them.”

The cost of musical success

Noise Solution’s referrals mainly come from the local authority and NHS, so they don’t need to advertise.

For those who can afford to pay privately for the service, it costs just under £2,000 for a standard 10-week intervention, which Mr Ribbans admits is “way out of the reach of most families.”

“But its not expensive in terms of the return on investment at all,” he added. “We know we’re diverting 40% of people off the NEET figures which over a long period of time is an additional £50,000. Anyone diverted from acute mental health condition, you’re looking at £60,000, and we see that all the time.

“Its in no way comparable to anything else in the sector.”

Noise Solution is currently conducting about 100 sessions a month across the East of England, and is looking to expand nationally in the next three years.

Mr Ribbans explained: “We have a very rigorous plan – we’re exploring a licensing method and an organic growth method with oversight from the board, so by 2020 we should be across the country.

“It’s about engaging with the right stakeholders in the right areas.”

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