School band

    “We are doing this because it matters. It matters for me and it
    matters for the world.” These are the words of Leslie Edwards, MC
    and toaster of Channel One, a reggae band that came together
    through Sound Minds, a music and visual arts studio in Battersea,
    London.

    The band is the winner of the Community Care Awards 2004 mental
    health category, and their award recognises the valuable
    contribution the band made to an anti-stigma day at Charles Edward
    Brookes School in Camberwell.

    Sound Minds was co-founded by Paul Brewer, project co-ordinator,
    and Devon Marston, project worker and is funded by Wandsworth
    Primary Care Trust, Sutton and Merton PCT and the Big Lottery Fund.
    People are referred to the project by community mental health teams
    in Merton, Sutton and Wandsworth. Brewer says: “At the point of
    referral we try to establish what their interests are, whether it’s
    music, visual art, video etc.”

    Channel One members came together through their interest in
    reggae music.

    Six of the seven band members are black and have long-term
    mental health problems. Between them they have experienced more
    than 25 hospital admissions. They are passionate about challenging
    the stigma of mental health and preventing others from suffering
    the devastating consequences of it – something they have all
    experienced first hand. This stigma, they say, is an enormous
    barrier to recovery. Passionate about campaigning, they decided
    that the best way to challenge stigma was to get in early and open
    minds.

    The anti-stigma day at the school brought band members into
    contact with 150 year 10 girls. They ran three workshops during the
    day covering mental health and the media, DJ skills, and singing
    and song writing. The idea was that the young people would learn
    valuable skills from people with severe mental health problems and
    this would directly challenge the negative stereotypes in the media
    which portray people with mental illness as incapable and
    dangerous.

    Band members have become very skilled in running workshops so
    Brewer felt “confident that band members would cope really well”,
    although he admits there was “apprehension on all sides”. He says:
    “When we arrived at the school we were all nervous but as soon as
    we got there we knew it was going to work. The students were really
    welcoming and genuinely wanted to learn.”

    In one of the workshops Channel One singer Coral Hines taught
    the girls interviewing skills and then invited them to interview
    her about her mental health. She is modest about the enormous
    courage it takes to expose herself in this way but is willing to do
    it because she wants to prevent others from sharing her first
    experience of mental health. She says: “The first thing I learned
    about mental illness was when I was in hospital. At least those
    girls in the school have heard something – a day like that would
    have helped me. We’re really teaching young people about mental
    health and giving them something to take away. Mental health is
    hidden away from a lot of people in schools.”

    Year 10 clearly drew much from the experience. “The teachers
    said the kids were buzzing for weeks,” says Brewer.

    So far Channel One has visited two schools but now that they
    have the £5,000 prize money they will be “actively seeking out
    schools”, he says.

    Currently the project has to close its doors when Channel One
    makes a visit but the aim is to expand the work with schools
    without taking anything away from the existing service.

    As for the award, Brewer says: “It’s the climax to a lot of hard
    work by everyone in the project – the band and everyone working
    behind the scenes.”

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