Celebrating 300 years

Playing for keeps

Friday, 05 June 2015

It’s show time

An initiative to give disadvantaged young people the chance to fulfil their musical dreams and find employment is being supported through masonic funding, as Imogen Beecroft discovers

 Over in one corner of a room two people are huddled together at a piano, perfecting a duet. Across the way, young men and women are memorising rap lyrics, strumming guitars and fiddling with DJ decks. Given the sheer array of musical ability, you would think you had stumbled into a professional West End rehearsal. In fact, these groups of young people are preparing for their final performance after just six weeks of training at the Roundhouse – a former railway engine shed in London’s Chalk Farm that is now a performing arts and concert venue, and a charitable trust. 

As soon as the first group goes on stage, the friendly, laid-back atmosphere gives way to a vibrant energy as everyone rises to their feet. One of the people singing along most enthusiastically is Africa Krobo-Edusei. He was working in a restaurant when he heard about the Roundhouse’s OnTrack project, a programme for young people aged 16-25 to learn about the music industry. 

‘I hated waking up in the morning and going to work,’ Africa remembers. ‘I quit my job because I knew this would be the thing for me. I have such a passion for music, so I took a risk and have no regrets. Now I’ve found a course that has inspired me, I wake up every day feeling happy.’

The intensive course covers all aspects of music production, from songwriting to event management, culminating in a live performance at the Roundhouse. OnTrack is one of the venue’s many programmes and events for young people not in full-time employment, education or training, some of whom have been homeless or in prison. The programmes are overseen by youth support worker (YSW) Angus Scott-Miller, whose role is part-funded by Stepping Stones, a non-masonic giving scheme operated by the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys (RMTGB). The scheme, which aims to reduce child poverty by helping disadvantaged children and young people to access education, awarded a grant of £20,000 to The Roundhouse Trust in 2011, followed by a further £20,000 in 2014. 

Les Hutchinson, CEO of the RMTGB, says: ‘The Roundhouse Trust is one of a very small number of charities to have received a second grant from the scheme. The RMTGB decided to provide support on both these occasions due to the wide range of opportunities that the organisation offers for disadvantaged young people. Freemason’s Hall is also located within the same London Borough as the Roundhouse, so it was the perfect opportunity to support a charity on our doorstep.’

Instrumental role

Angus coordinates the youth support team, visits schools and pupil referral units (for children who have been excluded from school), and provides pastoral support for 200 young people each year. Fran Pilcher, trusts and statutory manager at the Roundhouse, says: ‘The grant from the RMTGB has allowed Angus to continue to engage some of the most disadvantaged young people with creative opportunities. 

‘Many of those who access our services are vulnerable and experiencing multiple difficulties. The YSW role helps to create a safe environment for any young person, many of whom have no other support networks to turn to. With the backing of the RMTGB, it has become an integral part of the Roundhouse.’

Angus, 30, has been a YSW for six years but has been involved with the Roundhouse since he was 16 years old, when he was a student on one of its programmes. ‘It was the first thing I did outside school,’ he says. ‘It was a big step for me and I fell in love with the arts thanks to the Roundhouse.’

A few years later, Angus was checking the Roundhouse website daily to see if there were any jobs available when he saw an advert for his current role. ‘At the time my mum was kicking me out and all I had were two job interviews,’ he says. ‘I got two offers but took the one at the Roundhouse because I just love it. It did a lot for me as a kid and I want to give something back.’

Playing to strengths

Angus’s background helps him in his role providing pastoral care for the young people in the programme, of which 60 per cent are classified as disadvantaged, and he speaks passionately about the difficulties facing young people in London. ‘It’s so easy to get lost in a big city and get mixed up with the wrong crowd.’

Oliver Carrington, who manages the RMTGB’s Stepping Stones scheme, says Angus ‘does a fantastic job in building trust with the most disadvantaged young people that access the Roundhouse’s services. He helps participants overcome any potential barriers that they may face and is very effective in developing their strengths and nurturing their talents.’

Angus is modest about his work, but has dealt with issues as diverse as someone liking a girl at school through to abuse and suicide. ‘For a young person to trust you, you’ve got to build a relationship, and once you have that they will want to come to you for advice,’ he says, adding that he builds this trust by not putting on a persona. ‘I just listen, try to understand and help.’

Angus recalls one young person going through a particularly tough time. ‘He’d robbed a house and taken a lot of money. Some people found out, came to his house with guns and threatened his mum.’ Angus helped him get on a drama course at the Roundhouse. ‘After that he went to drama school. He now has his own place, a girlfriend and he’s acting professionally. I don’t think there’s anywhere in the world that helps young people like the Roundhouse. I don’t want to blow my own trumpet, but that’s what we do: we change lives.’

Africa believes the Roundhouse has turned his life around too. ‘There are people who show an interest in you and teach you how to apply your skills to the real world. They let you know that music isn’t just a hobby – it can be a career and you can excel if you put in the time.’ Africa has indeed excelled in his course, making strides in his musical ability as well as finding lifelong friends. ‘It feels like we’ve built a little family,’ he says.

Once the course is over, the young emerging artists can return to the Roundhouse for various events, or book out one of the venue’s studio spaces from £1 an hour to start making their own music. As Angus says, ‘It won’t be goodbye. This is just a welcome to the Roundhouse.’ 

Africa is certain he’ll be back and already has big plans for his musical future: ‘I’m going to start an artist development programme that takes on young artists like myself and works to help give them some direction. I always had a passion but this place is making that dream into more of a reality.’

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