#Letshearit for Mind Your Music
Mind Your Music uses the healing power of music to help people with serious mental health problems. It’s been running for 11 years and has helped hundreds of people lead happier, healthier and more connected lives outside a hospital environment.
Pressure on the NHS and chronic underfunding for mental health services means that the need for Mind Your Music is greater than ever but have to turn away deserving cases because we simply don’t have the resources.
We need to raise £50,000 to continue to use music to help vulnerable people for another year.
PLEASE DONATE NOW
All contributions, however modest, will be gratefully received and will help maintain and support the project.
In the past Mind Your Music has received generous support from the National Lottery and the Bristol-based Quartet Community Foundation. Last year Mind Your Music received the Penny Johnstone Award, presented by Quartet to the organisation that best fits their principles and objectives.
WE NOW NEED TO SECURE OUR FUTURE. WITHOUT NEW FUNDING WE WON'T BE ABLE TO CARRY ON OUR WORK IN 2019.
"Mind Your Music helps me remember who I am when my illness makes me forget."
"Mind Your Music is the difference between life and death for me."
"Mind Your Music gave me the confidence to be me, and exist as me."
"I suspect that the seeds of my illness go way back into childhood, but as a teenager I was doing well at school, playing football at a serious level and leading a happy life in a strong and supportive family. When I was in the 6th form the school told me that they thought I could make Cambridge.
"Then, at 17, I had a catastrophic breakdown and was put on a psychiatric ward where I was diagnosed as schizophrenic. There is no cure for schizophrenia and much misunderstanding about the nature of the illness. It is terrifying for the sufferer and destroys the lives of those around him or her.
"I spent the next 8 years on a psychiatric ward and was looking at 24 hour care for the rest of my life.
"One day I met a playwright called Steve Hennessey. Steve ran a theatre group called Stepping Out and was tying to use theatre to help people with mental illness. He cast me in one of his plays and I am sure that helped me start the process of finding myself again.
"Around the same time I was taking a serious interest in music. I could be feeling suicidal but if I picked up a guitar, it would be a distraction. Then, if I put it down, the terrors would return. So I have never really put it down since.
"As I started to feel stronger, I began to wonder if music could help others as it had helped me - especially in a supportive group environment similar to theatre.
"So I set up Mind Your Music."
Why Mind Your Music works
"The first thing is the distraction. You can’t be thinking about how bad you feel when you are thinking about where you have to place your fingers on the fretboard.
"Then there is the group environment. You are with other people who have similar problems. They support you as you support them.
"And you feel a sense of responsibility. You are going to show up to the session today because they are expecting you and you don’t want to let them down.
"Next, you now have a form of expression. I try to make sure that every voice is heard and that every individual makes a creative contribution to what we are doing.
"And now there is the sense of achievement because you have stood on the stage and played to an audience. You never expected to be able to do that and, for the first time, you are receiving applause from people who enjoyed what you did."
"I am blessed. When we started Mind Your Music I had a great mentor and friend, Ernie. Ernie was a wise old soul and a great musician. He passed away in 2015 but we still play one of his songs at the end of each gig, and dedicate our performance to him. We always will.
"Now my wife Sarah helps me run Mind Your Music. She is beautiful, kind, compassionate and the most naturally gifted musician and singer I have ever met.
"I am also aided by Len Leichti. Len is a well known local musician who freely gives his time and his good heart to Mind Your Music. Len is always helping repair instruments and running stuff around in his car. He won’t take a penny, not even for expenses.
"Steve has worked in the industry with some big bands and comes to almost all of our sessions. His commitment and enthusiasm is infectious. He is unpaid but invaluable, and he can always find a word of support for me whenever he thinks I need it."
So what do we actually do?
"Every week we run two rehearsal sessions at Factory Studios in Bristol. Typically each session will involve up to 12 people. At those sessions we help our people learn how to play their instruments, sing if they want to, and create their own music. We will then perform at least two concerts a year, one in mid summer, the other at Christmas. There is a CD recording available every year."
What’s the dream?
"Mind Your Music relies completely on charitable donations. Our continued existence is hand to mouth and has become more difficult as demand for our help has increased.
"Our objective for us is to secure our future for the next year. It costs us £50,000 a year to run the project.
"Ideally we would like to have that security and be able to expand. There is now much greater demand, partly because more people have heard of us, but also because mental illness is a growing problem which still does not get the resources it needs. People like Prince Harry have done great work in helping to raise the issue - that is only likely to increase the demand on us.
"My dream is that there might one day be a Mind Your Music project in every major city. There is certainly the need for it and I have seen how effective it can be. If we had the resources I would like the NHS to refer patients to us when they are trying to rebuild their lives."
What have we learned?
"One of the characteristics of severe mental illness is crushing disappointment. You might experience a brighter phase but it will so often be followed by a fall. It can become easier to accept the illness as the story of you. Then you don't suffer the disappointment. And it is so easy to become institutionalised.
"I try to encourage a bit of fight and to see the person beyond the illness. When we all play together, when we all agree to meet at a set day and time, we are making an emotional commitment to each other. The individual feels he/she should attend the session because others will be making the effort and he/she won’t want to let them down.
"There are so many things in life that can create anxiety in the anticipation. But then, once you have got past that, you find you enjoyed the experience and feel better than you did before.
"One of our people, keen to make a session, wanted us to send a taxi for him. I refused and said he should catch a bus. He said he didn’t know which bus and would like directions. I said that he had the address and could find the directions and the bus routes.
"He arrived, by bus, and felt better about himself for having done that.
"We are not doctors or social workers. We are not hear to treat patients. We are hear to play music together. That is where the healing is."
A father’s comment
"It would take a lifetime to go into the full story so I won’t even try. If music helped to rescue Elliot, then that is what it did for me too, and for all his family.
"I remember a Mom bringing her boy to a Mind Your Music session. He was catatonic and didn’t look well enough to be taking part in anything. I could have wept for his poor Mom, and I think I did later that evening.
"He just sat there looking into space with an electric guitar across his knee like some kind of comfort blanket. He never attempted to play it.
"When I could I would give Elliot a lift to his Mind Your Music sessions because some of the amps can be very heavy. But one day I was unable to do that and when I next saw Elliot next he was rubbing his shoulder. He had carried that heavy amp across Bristol.
"When I asked him why he said he did it in case the boy wanted to plug in his guitar.
"And did he? I asked.
"But Elliot carried that amp everywhere to every session.
"And, one day, the kid plugged in.
"Now that boy fronts his own band. He doesn’t need the Mind Your Music sessions anymore but he comes to support their gigs and remembers what they did for him.
"To say I am proud of Elliot doesn’t really do it. Not by a long chalk."
"We know from experience that mental illness can strike anybody. Of course we went through the usual ‘Why him’ and ‘Why us’ kind of stuff. But then you get to ‘Why not us?’ What gives our family to right to escape a blight that will affect 1 in 4 people at some time in their lives?
"Elliot’s life did not follow the course we had imagined for him. It was so very hard for all of us. But, looking at him now, I wouldn’t change a thing. What he is achieving with these lovely people brings a tear to my eye every time I go to a Mind Your Music gig."