Happy new year and a huge welcome to 2023! This has been a very busy year for Soft Touch Arts so far, with lots of projects starting, continuing and coming to a close.
Between October and December
We have delivered over 320 sessions with young people
Worked with around 200 unique individuals under 25’s
40 % of these were disabled.
We have seen new staff starting their journey with us – Welcome Karina who is a research intern for the punks project. Welcome also to Ameila who is on a 6 month internship specialising in video editing for the Punks project; and Megan who is here on placement from DMU until the end of April.
Fran finished in January after her 1 year placement through the Rank Foundation and Melissa moved on to a new position supporting families within the City council. Our first Punks intern, Rosie, finished in October. Thanks to all of them for their hard work during their time with us.
We have also expanded our freelance team during this period, welcome to Rob Hunt, music leader, Rich Holland, arts leader specialising in carpentry, and Kristen who is running cafe sessions.
Not forgetting a warm welcome to Sima and Gary to the board!
Liz is preparing a finance report which will be ready for the board meeting in February.
The fundraising team are preparing a range of bids to support projects eg for the summer break, youth voice, the cafe and to develop a stronger environmental theme to our work.
Longer term and larger bids are being prepared around building healthy relationships (Children in Need) organisational development (Garfield Weston) and a funded female apprenticeship offer (Youth Music).
In addition to those bids, we are discussing possible joint bids with the Canal and Rivers Trust (CRT) and with Why Me? – a restorative justice advocate. The CRT discussions follow on from a successful partnership riverside signage project last year that also involved Castle Mead School and the Sea Scouts.
Hospital Schools music sessions
We have started a new project this January working with young people who are suffering with mental and physical health crises. We are delivering 30 sessions over the next 3 months in the following settings.
Caroline Rowland and Robin Grace are working on the acute children’s ward at the LRI, making music at bedsides with young people who are suffering with illnesses such as cystic fibrosis and other medical needs.
Stan’ley Samuel and Paul Dixon are making music at the Beacon centre, which is based at the Glenfield hospital site. This is essentially a secure unit for children with major mental health problems.
Marcus Joseph and Paul Dixon are working with young people at Willowbank hospital school in Eyres Monsell with young people who are struggling to attend mainstream education due to mental health struggles and medical needs (these sessions are mainly with young women).
Helen Collins writes: We have had a great turnout at sessions for Stage 2 at Team Hub! Since the summer we have introduced Commercial Community Dance classes at Team Hub every Friday after school, planned and delivered by our Project Enable intern, Katie. These sessions have been regularly attended by girls from New College who have engaged with us either on our Stage 1 sessions at New College or Stage 1 workshops at Team Hub. Throughout the Autumn term we have pushed the boundaries of our young people’s comfort zones by trying different approaches in the art session such as our Wellbeing Bonfire night. We encouraged young people to ‘Sit around the fireplace’ drinking hot chocolate and chatting whilst Lauren led an oil pastel workshop. Then they all chose positive quotes to help them get through the darker months ahead. We have seen brilliant attendance of mass community events at Team Hub and helped to promote and create the Halloween Spooky night, filming an atmospheric dance within the scare rooms to promote on social media. The event saw over 250 families through the doors. We have also started a small singing group alongside the Wednesday Art session and performed at the Christmas Extravaganza, providing over 300 people with a Christmas Sing along every hour for 5 hours!
The Soft Touch Team were highly praised by the community who loved the craft workshops by Kieran, Leena and Sally. Meanwhile, Katie spent the day dressed as an Elf helping Santa! At New College we have strived to engage with the most disaffected young people in Year 7 and 8, some of which have enjoyed the opportunity to join our sessions at Team Hub and even started to access Soft Touch Arts by coming along to the Youth Voice cooking sessions and studio time (independently). We have lots to look forward to this Spring including planning and painting the Whitehouse Community Allotments building during half term and preparing for the Easter Eggstravaganza – all alongside our regular weekly sessions at New College (Music every Wednesday and Art every Thursday) and Team Hub (Music and Art every Wednesday, Dance every Friday). We are currently writing and creating videos for our funders’ report next month and will be happy to share this with you at your next meeting! – Watch the Video round up here
Fran finished her Time to Shine internship at the end of 2022. Her role was to help support the growth of Youth Voice, shaping the direction of our organisation. We had weekly meetings with young people where we would discuss with them what opportunities they want and need and how Soft Touch could support them. They were part of organising some fantastic events over the year.
Looking to 2023, we don’t have an intern to work on this full time, however we have Megan who will be supporting Kelly along with our other interns to continue to build positive relationships with participants. We are looking to approach things differently this year, running monthly youth voice events. The first one is on Saturday 28th January where we’ll have an under 16’s group doing a cook and chat session, another group will be working on live funding bids with youth music, we’ll all have lunch together cooked by our young people with DJ sets and some evaluation thrown in. We’re also looking to plan some more residential trips this year as the last one to Wales was great!
Naji Richards writes: We had another excellent Shed showcase at the end of 2022. Groups from across the various sessions came together and put on a show. The show was eclectic with performers playing many styles of rap, instrumentalists and vocalists. We had Shane and Freddie play DJ sets as warmups to get the crowd ready for the main show. The levels seem to raise with each show as each artist gets more confidence in their performances and stage skills. One thing that stands out is the way each artist will support and encourage each other. They’re all in the same boat and they help each other with positive encouragement and support. The energy in the room was electric and they’re always raring to go for the next show after their performances.
The Friday night sessions continue to develop and grow. Due to the massive range of abilities of our participants we decided to make the Friday session for those young people who are more serious about their craft and want to take things to the next level. On Fridays we concentrate more on stage craft and more advanced production such as mixing and recording techniques. Naji oversees the session and is on hand to give advanced production help, and Levi is taking the lead on the stage craft, helping them improve on their performance skills. Shane comes and is developing his DJ skills. We have given him tasks for creating sets that he can perform and practise such as developing a set of solely one genre and other sets that combine many genres. Flex continues to develop his bi lingual sound and has recorded an album worth of material some of which he has performed on our regular gigs at the Shed. He has developed a great working relationship with Rares and Denis who are also bi lingual performers. Between them they have made some great collaborations. Kristian has recently started his journey as an MC and is currently rehearsing with Nathan on some collaboration tracks.
Caroline Rowland writes: It’s been a great year for the Soft Touch Studios girls’ group, with loads of new faces and some great development in the young people’s music. With 3 of the young people starting music courses at college, you can see them all really starting to take their music seriously. Sozzle has developed leaps and bounds with her song writing and performing and ended last year performing a showcase support set for Andrea Kenny at the soundhouse in Nov. Alyson is developing her confidence as a musician and has recently brought along more young musicians from her college course to collaborate with her.
Mia and Frankie are two new additions this year who joined the music session after working with me on the sports/hula hoop/dance sessions. They have developed leaps and bounds and are now moving away from karaoke style performances (2 excellent performances at the last Soft touch showcase) and are now stepping into writing and composing their own music. Sydney has produced 3 new tracks this year, working a lot on lyrics and vocals in our Monday sessions. Sydney has been so focused this year and is such a perfectionist.
Sam Manville writes: Sam and Muzi are running the Tuesday night referral session – they have been busy, with regulars and new participants too. Nathan is working towards getting people to vocal the beats he makes and has even been trying to vocal things himself recently; Shane continues to hone his DJ skills each week and perform at every given opportunity; Kristian is getting really good on the guitar and is picking up any skills anyone will teach him. Harry has been working towards finishing tracks and improving his live performances which are getting better each time. Roman is working towards live performance and getting a punk band together, his confidence has really grown over the last few months.
On Friday 27th January we launched Step up! a new bi-monthly progression event for young people to try out getting on stage or try new material in front of their peers, which is based at Soft Touch Arts.
Our cafe sessions continue to run on a Wednesday with Ellesmere College. Thursday is individual Creative Studio young people making up a small team and Friday is referral only funded by small pots and any income from the cafe and events run by the cooking team. We are always looking at ways to encourage members of the public in, which in turn supports our young people.
If you know anyone looking for a space to meet, eat, be warm, access free wifi and support young people in the process spread the word about the Soft touch cafe!
This project finished in December. Funded with emergency Covid funding from Children In Need and Inspiring Futures the project ran for 18 months and aimed to increase the employability of 15-24 years olds – from developing confidence to getting jobs.
57 young people took part in the project. Progress was measured under three differences:
Develop life skills – 30 were seen to have made significant progress, 17 some progress and 6 little or no progress. The latter were mainly those who only attended once or twice.
Build positive relationships with trusted adults and organisations – “As a young trans woman I was very anxious about how to present myself at job interviews. HC (What If? co-ordinator) worked with me on doing my make-up and went shopping with me to find an appropriate outfit for job interviews as well practising for these. I got the job and have continued working there after my KickStart placement ended” – participant W
Experience of ‘working’ situations – None of the participants had had a ‘real’ job, most had not undertaken any paid work prior to taking part in What If? 9 young people moved into employment.
“I was really pleased with how my initial induction volunteering at the bookshop went. I hardly slept the night before worrying about this and then worrying about not having slept but coped really well and am looking forward to my next time there” – participant E
A case study can be read here
The main part of Cre8ive TV also finished in December. Working with a steering group of ex-prisoners and ex-offenders the project produced 30 x 30 minute
TV programmes broadcast directly into the cells of approximately 50,000 prisoners in 75 prisons. Broadcasting, through WayOut TV, started in May 2022 and the series is now being repeated. As well as the demonstration of a creative activity per episode, interviews with artists and features on their work, viewers were invited to send in artwork to be featured in the programme and to date we have received 216 pieces of work. We have a small amount of outstanding match funding and will be using this to film short standalone galleries of artwork that have been sent into us after the main filming was finished. These will be broadcast by WayOut TV. We are just finalising an online exhibition of the artwork we have received and will be updating this as more artwork is received.
Filming beatboxing Artwork sent in by viewer Filming spoken word
The exhibition opening date of 27th May is getting closer and the exhibition is taking shape. To date 118 young people are or have been involved in the young curators group, and groups focusing around music, fashion, hairdressing, dance and graphics. Groups working around girls’ music, make-up and sculpture are still to start.
The project has sparked the imagination of many partners with students at DMU and Leicester College also doing their own work around the subject. There will be a weekend of related activities 18-20 August throughout the city centre.
Last but not least our young curators have been at the heart of this project, working throughout the project with Sally, Chris, Joe from Arch Creative and Shaun Knapp as part of the design team and directing the look and feel of the exhibition.
There are many tie-in events and happenings planned such as a Gay Ball at Leicester Museum, talks and film screenings, music, art workshops and it’s looking quite likely we’ll have a first for Leicester with a band playing on a boat on the river as part of the festival weekend……… Watch this space! A new dedicated exhibition website being launched next week www.rageandrevolution.co.uk
We continue to have various young people onto our Creative studio Arts programme for schools working on music, arts, food, woodwork and animation. We currently have young people from Babington Academy, Beauchamp College,
The Winstanley School, Forestway School, Wreake Valley Academy, Aspire schools, Ellesmere College and Oakwood Community School. This totals about 15 sessions a week within the school day.
Kieran Walsh writes: Lewis has been attending regular sessions at Soft Touch Arts for over two years. He was initially referred from his school, where he was struggling to achieve due to behavioural issues and lack of attendance. When he started at Soft Touch, he was initially quite reluctant to engage in creative activities and would often try to avoid any personal involvement. He would often be rude to staff and generally quite sullen. During the lockdown, we visited him at home to work on sculpture projects which we did outside his house in New Parks. He began to take an interest in his own work, and when he was able to return to Soft Touch, had considerably more enthusiasm.
He began to work using wood and other materials, such as stripping and upcycling pallets and scaffolding boards, and made useful items such as a computer desk, garden furniture and shelves. He also made some items for the Soft Touch building such as a counter for the café and various bits of seating. More recently he has discovered that he enjoys turning wood on a lathe, and has become adept at making bowls and other items.
During this time Lewis has been dealing with major family upheavals and is currently not living at his family home, although he continues to attend and is generally in a much more positive frame of mind when he is at Soft Touch. He is keen to continue working in wood and we have now brought in a professional carpenter to help him to develop his skills. Lewis also now attends for an extra day a week.
Music one to one sessions
Rob writes: I have been working with Tyrone since December last year. In that time I have seen a significant positive shift in his attitude, improving further each week.
During our sessions he likes to vent about both past and present events/feelings – where possible, we talk things through to a point of understanding (to ensure no safeguarding issues) giving T the opportunity to let go of thoughts or feelings that may be clogging his mind.
T likes to freestyle his lyrics when recording a track due to his lack of reading and writing skills. This allows T to vent about some deeper feelings that he may be dealing with without holding back so much. Occasionally these trails of thoughts may be interrupted by negative subjects – these moments tend to be a reflection of the music that T (and many other teenagers his age) like to listen to.
One to one art sessions
Lauren Park writes: Laceie has been working on more automatic abstract paintings so she can experiment and not worry about the outcome because an outcome hasn’t been determined. This has allowed her to be more relaxed in the session whilst learning how colours, textures and paint interact.
Josh has been enthusiastic from the get go about making a miniature environment. This has meant he has had to experiment with a range of techniques from spray painting, painting, sculpting and much more. This is a long-term project and many elements have been added each week. When this is completed, he would like to explore photography and the miniature scene will be his first subject. Initially Josh was very quiet and still is but he is more open to talk and be decisive in what he would like to achieve in sessions. Josh loves Coldplay and enjoys listening to them during sessions.
I have only had 2 sessions with Liam. However, his immediate interest was producing an animation. He already has a vision and created characters so we started with a story board and drawing the first few frames. He enjoys listening to seeburg music, watching Sooty and Sweep and Last of the Summer Wine.
Ellesmere Music sessions Lee Spreadbury writes: Since September I’ve been working with a group of amazingly fun, confident and charismatic students from Ellesmere SEN College, supporting them in their creative musical development as part of the Creative studio programme. Each week the group play live music as an ensemble, learning a range of songs by artists such as The Beatles, The Who and Ed Sheeran. They like to challenge themselves by learning different instruments – drums, guitar, bass, vocals and keys, and they have also started various recording studio projects – working with Logic Pro to write and record their own songs. Since the students have been coming to these sessions they have formed a band (called ’The Flaming Wolves’) designed a band logo, printed some T-Shirts and have their first live performance in the Softtouch Cafe on Thursday February 16th! The group’s passion for music is huge, as is their desire to learn and create. They are a pleasure and an inspiration to work with.
This project is in Production currently with young people from Beauchamp College, working with film Maker Kieth Allott.
The project idea came about in response to the stark statistics around divorce and the negative impacts on children. Soft Touch’s experience of running issue-based projects helped offer groups of young people (many with lived experience of family divorce) the opportunity to share their stories of being caught in the middle of divorce, using film. The parents were often so caught up in their own emotions they were not considering those of their children and how this might affect them when negotiating custody and other divorce issues. The children end up literally being pulled both ways.
Lauren Parks writes: STart has been an ongoing project for over 8 years, which has given some young
people the opportunity to be with us for a long time, including attending other sessions. This last year we have been focusing on each individual’s progression, starting to create a plan for them and for those who are 25, an exit plan.
Some have naturally moved on to jobs, further education and made connections with other organisations. We have also had some participants join STart from the What If?, a project that finished in December. The enterprise project is now being run alongside STart until funding runs out at the end of March when this will be reviewed.
This is a great session for young people who have problems with anxiety and want to build confidence as this is an easy going, supportive environment and the only weekly art session we currently have.
We have participants who paint, animate, sketch, craft and make things to sell. They all come to the session to create in a space with like-minded people and feel supported. As a group they are really good at sharing ideas and what they’ve learnt. Looking forward, we would like to expand the group so we can engage with younger participants as well and include elements of youth voice as this would encourage them to feel part of the wider organisation, enable them to implement change and create opportunities.
Chris Wigmore writes: Every year for the past 7 years Pete Miller (now sadly without Tracey Miller
who was such a great supporter of Soft Touch) has put on a comedy fundraising event for Soft Touch. Over the 7 years around £25,000 has been raised. This year’s event is on 21st February, 6.30-10.30pm at Chutney Ivy with Jessica Fostekew as the headline act. Please could you share the flyer far and wide and encourage anyone you know who might like this type of event to come along, as ticket sales are not what they should be this year for various reasons? Chris will also need some help on the night so any volunteers welcome – curry and comedy provided in return. A couple of our young people, James Sheridan and Jamie, will get involved reading out puns to guests on the tables.
And finally… Gig night!
Saturday 25th March we are having a fundraising party! There’ll be live music from our music delivery staff, food and a bar – a good old knees up all for charity. Help us raise some much needed funds by inviting everyone you know!