Here, in the latest edition of the BRIT Trust Diaries, Sandra Reynolds, communications manager at Heart N Soul, discusses the organisation's work, which draws on the power of music and the creative arts to help support those with learning disabilities and autistic people...
We believe in the power and talents of people with learning disabilities and autistic people. We work together to make great art with imagination, love and trust. Everyone is valued, and leadership is shared, plus we have a lot of fun!
Heart N Soul started in 1986. Musician Mark Williams, now our artistic director and chief executive, wanted to explore new ways of music-making and using art to make a difference. He started running creative sessions with a group of people with learning disabilities, including co-founder Pino Frumiento, who went to a local day service in Lewisham, South East London. After they moved to The Albany, they re-named themselves Heart N Soul after one of Pino’s first original songs. The group started creating original shows, stories and music. They toured across the UK and Europe attracting interest within the arts and disability worlds.
At Heart N Soul we offer a place for people to create, connect and help to lead change. We ensure that people with learning disabilities and autistic people are involved in every area of our work, including co-producing our programmes of work.
We believe in the power and talents of people with learning disabilities and autistic people
Everyone is encouraged to make music and art in the way they want. Our key project for young people is Do Your Own Thing, where young people can take part in music, art, radio, DJ-ing and video. Do Your Own Thing have also been involved in a range of exciting collaborations, including working with Tate Modern, South London Gallery, The White Pube and the London Symphony Orchestra. The project helps to boost young people’s confidence, and wellbeing and independence, and many of the group have gone on to establish careers in the arts.
We also support artists to help develop, perform and exhibit what they do. Music is at the heart of Heart N Soul and we work with a range of very talented artists. Electric Fire, who describe their electro-pop sound as “egg funk”, have toured extensively across the UK, as well as in Europe and in Hong Kong.
Dean Rodney Jr, a prolific writer and musician who wrote 54 albums over lockdown alone, has just released his new record The Yeehaw Moment with his band The Cowboys. Other artists include Too Hot For Candy, Sam Castell-Ward and younger up-and-coming artists D.M.S. and Sebastian.
At Heart N Soul it’s important that we create safe spaces where people can connect, make friends and meet new contacts. There are 1.5 million people with learning disabilities in the UK and they have fewer chances to socialise with their peers, contributing to loneliness and a poorer quality of life (source: Mencap). So our project Allsorts is essential. As well as adults being able to be creative, it's also a place where establishing friendships and connections are just as important.
We use art and creativity to influence change in areas that affect our community
Through all our work, we use art and creativity to influence change in areas that affect our community. We share how we work with other organisations to inspire change. We have worked on research projects Heart N Soul At The Hub with The Wellcome Collection and Believe In Us with partners including The Health Foundation. In whatever way we work, we use our bigger club events, the Beautiful Octopus Club and Squidz Club to amplify everything we do, attracting thousands of people each year.
We’re never quite sure what's round the corner at Heart N Soul, but that’s part of the excitement of it! We leave ourselves open to take on new opportunities, with people with learning disabilities and autistic people always at the heart of what we do.
If you would like to learn more about our work, donate, volunteer or come to one of our upcoming events, please visit our website here.