Keynsham and District Mencap Society – giving people a voice through music
Launched in 1978, Keynsham and District Mencap Society offers social opportunities for people that have profound and multiple learning and physical disabilities. The charity’s programme includes social clubs for adults and children, music lessons and sports clubs, group holidays, community outings and outdoor pursuit activities, all provided in a safe and supported environment.
People with a learning disability often have smaller social networks and, typically, one in three young people in this situation spend less than one hour a day outside their homes. The charity aims to reduce isolation, facilitate friendships, build confidence and increase self-esteem amongst its community.
During the Covid pandemic, Mencap had to close its social clubs. Despite this, the project leaders of each club ensured this vital service continued through online activities, phone buddy systems, weekly get-togethers via video conferencing, as well as games and resources delivered to members in their homes.
The Music Man Project gives a voice to its members. A regular and inclusive club, it offers the chance for people to learn a new skill and perform to the public. It can also be a platform for participants to develop as individuals and as part of a team, as well as enhancing emotional wellbeing, self-discipline, coordination and communication skills.
In April 2019 the members joined other regional Music Man Project groups to perform together at the Royal Albert Hall in London; over 200 musicians accompanied by an orchestra and community choirs made it the biggest celebration of accessible music to date. The project also offers creative artists an opportunity to raise awareness about the incredible difference music can make, whilst performing to the public can help to promote positive interactions with the local community and encourage greater acceptance of learning disabilities.
The pandemic has significantly limited the ability of the group to come together; since March 2020 lockdowns have meant the group were not able to perform to a live audience. In spite of this, the determination of the members to carry on during the pandemic has been staggering; they have remained just as enthusiastic as they were when the project began in 2018. Performances have been filmed entirely via Zoom and a Christmas concert was hosted on Facebook and broadcast via the charity’s YouTube channel.
In August 2021 SMV supported The Music Man Project with a grant of £3,000, which enabled them to continue the project with a music leader specifically trained in teaching people with a learning disability. The charity was also able to purchase new percussion instruments, which have been loaned out to the musicians.
Rehearsals have continued on Zoom, which have been vital in keeping the group connected until they could return to attend sessions at the club. As lockdown restrictions have eased, the members have begun to get together for socially distanced rehearsals, and they look forward to performing locally later this year. The charity is also collaborating with other Music Man Projects across the UK, with the intention that a large performance similar to the Royal Albert Hall event will be possible in the future.