Where in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis, not to mention deprivation and downright poverty, can hope, joy and a reason to carry on be found? Well, for many teenagers in Worthing, West Sussex, the answer is AudioActive – an organisation that is committed to their welfare, and through the use of free music sessions builds up their confidence and self-worth.
Founded in 1999 in Brighton, but now working across Sussex, AudioActive in its own words “creates social change through music and develops emerging talent.” These few words do not begin to encompass the vast range of their concern for the county’s young people, nor the vision that has led into a dizzying number of initiatives. These range from giving angry young men a Room to Rant to combating gender inequality within the music industry.
Non-judgmental and supportive
The permanent base that AudioActive now has in Worthing combines a performance space with a recording studio, rehearsal rooms, places to sit and eat together or just to sit on comfy sofas. It also serves the best coffee in West Sussex (in my opinion) at the pavement level café, which clearly helps in attracting both youngsters and their parents.
Sitting on one of the comfy sofas, talking to the Director of Programmes and Giz, who oversees the music, it was lovely to witness the easy relationships that exist between these two and the teenagers. Both are passionate about AudioActive, but more than this they clearly enjoy working with young people, being non-judgmental, affirming and supportive. Of course, there are difficulties, but their approach to troubled teens is trauma-informed, non-punitive and restorative, always allowing them to have a voice.
Whilst holidays and half terms are devoted to the most deprived young people, in term-time the centre is open four evenings a week for any child. This in turn brings youngsters from all backgrounds together which builds community. Now with two established centres, in Brighton and Worthing, AudioActive have also held free holiday sessions along the coast in Newhaven and Eastbourne and wish to establish another centre in Crawley.
The AudioActive team are also on a mission to reduce the disparity of women and non-binary and gender-variant individuals within the industry. They do this through their free weekly Equaliser sessions at the centre, opening up music technology and again giving this group their own individual voices.
A particularly effective aspect is the way young people influence and encourage each other, lead the work and, whether they know it or not, explore their own development. Lucky enough to have the full tour of the space, I saw all this in action in the music tech room where they were using a range of software, including one for rap rhymes.
A couple of girls were working with a guitar and recording software and some young people were on their own, but the atmosphere was happily industrious with a professional musician on hand to help. It was great to chat to two lads in the recording studio, who confidently offered to perform their composition. Many of those young people would be on stage at the end of the week in front of an audience, rapping, singing or playing, and it doesn’t take much imagination to understand how incredibly encouraging this is.
Furthermore, 60 per cent of the paid staff at AudioActive came here as school children. Giz himself was a volunteer, which helped him to start his own business in the music industry. This gives the youngsters role models who are equipped to build up the often-fragile confidence of teenagers. Four staff members are under the age of 25, working in communications and advertising, and a 17-year-old is in charge of all the sound engineering.
Of course, not everyone goes into music, but being valued has great outcomes, such as the young man who was encouraged to try a carpentry apprenticeship and has recently built his own sound studio. Then there are the students who, having arrived here sometimes angry and often disaffected from school and family, find their way back to full-time education through the music, the friends made and the values displayed.
Making a difference
Whilst the AudioActive team make it all look so easy, this belies the sheer hard work that has made this organisation in general and this centre in particular so successful. They work alongside Public Health Brighton and the Violence Reduction unit. Post-pandemic, they have re-engaged with schools in the area, offering group work as well as one-to-one sessions with students. This could involve dealing with groups of traumatised children following a stabbing.
Outreach often involves Giz, armed with a speaker, a keyboard and accompanied by one of his best rappers, attracting kids from the most deprived estates in Worthing or Littlehampton. Working with the Police and Crime Commission, they are a trusted provider in West Sussex and take referrals from the Youth Offending service. Much of the team’s time is spent fund raising and alongside council and public health funding. They gained National Portfolio Status from the Arts Council for three years and the Room to Rant has been funded through Comic Relief.
There is apparently no end to the team’s energy, commitment and innovative ideas. They host musical events around the county, giving up-and-coming musicians a platform. They co-hosted a festival-size music event in Tilgate Park, Crawley, as part of the celebrations for the town’s 75th anniversary where, as ever, most of the performers were under 25.
Teaming up with Sofar Sounds, there are events at AudioActive’s Bottega Rooms in Brighton and, for the first time, on June 11, at AudioActive in Worthing as part of the festival. Many bands have been given their first break by AudioActive and it has attracted the support of well-known artists such as Rag’n’Bone Man, who wishes it had been around when he was starting out.
This is not just another youth project, but a dynamic, innovative, life-affirming artistic community, which values all our young people, and seeks to give even the most disillusioned and alienated youngsters hope and a purpose through the inclusive medium of music.