18 Mar 2016

Reflections on I’m Inclusive Too: Music and Social Justice Conference

On Saturday 27 February, delegates from a range of inclusive and community music backgrounds came together for ‘I’m Inclusive Too’, a conference and showcase on the theme of music and social justice, combining case studies and training with practical music-making activities and a performance by young people from the region. Organised by Accessible Arts & Media and NYMAZ, the event took place at the Ron Cooke Hub building at the University of York.

Professor Lee Higgins, Director of the International Centre for Community Music at York St John University, started proceedings with a keynote presentation demonstrating how community music projects can be seen as ‘sites for social justice’, while his colleague Chris Bartram led delegates through some inclusive musical warm-up exercises, to prepare for the day ahead.

CPD Workshops
The morning’s activities continued with four varied workshops, each shining a light on a particular project, organisation or research study aiming to bring about social change through participatory music.

Ashley Murphy, from More Music in Morecambe, introduced delegates to his organization through a beginner’s introduction to beat boxing techniques. Ashley demonstrated the fundamental building blocks to create a beat with only the mouth and microphone, using technology to distort the voice. He took us through a brief history of More Music, pinpointing some of the organisation’s flagship projects and its international reach.

Dr Kathleen Noss Van Buren, of Sheffield University, led a presentation around her own research on music for social change, including a project in Nairobi, Kenya. She also introduced a resource currently in development, called Make Arts for a Better Life: A Guide for Working in Communities, aiming to provide a breakdown of steps supporting communities to envisage a better future through the arts.

John Speyer, Director of Music in Detention, gave a presentation on the organisation’s work connecting immigration detainees with the communities surrounding detention centres. Meanwhile, Jennifer Raven from Sound Connections gave an introduction to the work of the Sound Connections Challenging Circumstances Music Network, including looking at varied models of progression for young musicians, and Ben Reeve from Fairbeats!, a project working with young refugees and asylum seekers, gave an insight into some of his methods for working with children with lower English language skills. 

During a networking lunch, delegates had the opportunity to speak to a range of stall holders, including Youth Music, Jessie’s Fund, Access to Music, Musinc, My Pockets and Tang Hall SMART CIC, as well as view a sample of My Pockets’ short films in the Ron Cooke Hub’s ‘3Sixty’ projection space.

Practical workshops
The afternoon made way for a selection of inclusive music projects, led by Accessible Arts & Media’s very own IMPs apprentices, young people with learning disabilities who are training to lead workshops in Singing and Signing, and accessible music making. Delegates and young people learnt new up-beat songs, and how to sign along to them, or picked up techniques in making participatory music sessions accessible for children and young people with learning disabilities and additional needs.

Following these break-out workshops, everybody came together in an ambitious plan to write one protest song, with contributions from over 100 people, in under an hour! Amazingly, the challenge was successfully completed, and a wonderful new song ‘I Have a Voice’, was created and performed.


In a plenary session to draw together the many themes and discussions through the day, delegates came together to pledge actions for their own organisations, as well as putting out calls for resources, advice and other things ‘wanted’ in order to achieve these actions. Fellow delegates responded with offers of support in a range of ways, in an effort to join forces to achieve more.

Performance by young people
Last but not least, a passionate performance of original and existing protest songs rounded off the day, with emotional, catchy, amusing and well-loved songs performed by young folk singer Violet Gross, the Headlands Community Primary School Ukulele club, and Accessible Arts & Media’s two IMPs groups in York and the East Riding. An inspiring way to end a fantastic day.

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Tags | Special Educational Needs/Disabilities | Training & CPD

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