Rob’s story

Rob’s story

Many people including myself didn’t think I would see my 30th birthday.

I grew up in a pub with alcoholic parents who had regular drunken fights. Me and my brother had no restrictions. I was 5 when I had my first run in with the police, shoplifting from the local newsagents.

By the age of seven I had my first permanent exclusion and by eleven I was smoking cannabis and drinking alcohol. The alcohol was easy to get hold of but the money for cannabis was a little harder, so I turned to crime. My drug habit escalated and I got into trouble with the police regularly. By 14 I was in specialist provision, where I met other boys like me, with the same disrespect for education. I was out of control, angry and violent – that youth everyone’s scared of – and it was inevitable I’d end up in prison.

I was determined to make it my first and last time. On release, I looked for work and volunteered with community projects. Then my dad died suddenly. I was 22. Everything went into free-fall. I used drink and drugs as my answer and the anger built within me and I became involved in a fight which resulted in a 4 year sentence.

I moved into far more violent circles. Within months I had a serious cocaine addiction, fuelled through crime. I had to hide in my flat because I now had drug debts myself. Finally, I committed a serious violent offence and I was given an IPP – imprisoned for public protection, which means I was a danger to society and unsafe to be around. The only way I was going to overcome this was to change everything in my life.

I knew I needed structure and support to stop me re-offending. I started by learning how to read properly. I accepted counselling and help from agencies I shied away from in the past. Trying to change the habits of a lifetime is hard and at times I have stumbled. However, I have done my best to use my time in custody effectively. I’ve got a partner and a baby now, so I’ve got to make it work.

Good Vibrations came to my prison in early 2020. I’d never seen a gamelan before, so it was totally new to me and to the other men who took part. We were on the same level – all out of our comfort zones. We had to leave our egos at the door and collaborate to master this unfamiliar set of instruments. We had to encourage each other, or else the whole thing wouldn’t work, and this built confidence and self-belief. We took something we knew nothing about and in 5 days we were skilled and confident enough to showcase it to others, not just staff, not just family but fellow prisoners – that’s massive. 

Good Vibrations gave me a safe context to try out being more confident, creative, collaborating with others – and that helped me believe in the better version of myself.

I don’t know when I’m going to be released, but I’m determined to do something positive with my life when I am. I’m part of the Rejuvenate Project which supports the rehabilitation of ex-offenders. It has given me structure and the ability to become a positive role model. I’ve even started writing blogs about my experience, something I never would have dreamed of doing a year ago. I no longer want to be a problem in the community, but part of the solution, and I’m focused on remaining that way.

Errol’s story

Errol’s story

I spent most of my childhood in care. That’s where I learnt to be a criminal – it was my training ground. The other boys and the staff all said I’d end up in prison.

I had no prospects and smashing shop windows and cars was the only way I had of expressing my anger. I was in and out of prison for years. In between I’d work, but I’d always end up back inside.

In 2016 I took part in a Good Vibrations course for the first time at HMP Thameside. I’m rhythmic, but not very musical. It wasn’t what I expected. We had to carry all these ancient delicate instruments into the hall to start with – I was interested straight away. With gamelan, there’s a lot of space for people who haven’t got a clue about how to play music.

I remember there were people there from some of the other prison wings, including a couple of guys I wasn’t getting on with. There was real tension, even though it all started over a packet of biscuits. I remember threatening this geezer one minute, then the next suddenly we’re sharing a xylophone! You can’t play music, trying to find melody and rhythm, and still have beef. It’s impossible. Either the tension takes over, or the music, shared cooperation and collaboration does.

After I was released I bumped into Kieran, a Good Vibrations facilitator, at an event one day. He helped get me on a course at the Southbank, but it was too stressful to fit in so I dropped out. I was diagnosed with ADHD around that time and I think that had something to do with it. But later I tried again. I performed with other musicians at a conference using gamelan instruments and music tech, and did a gamelan and poetry course called Beyond Performance at the University of York. I even spoke and performed at a Good Vibrations board meeting.

Playing gamelan helped me learn to co-operate, communicate and experience harmony with other people. You can’t play music with someone and stay angry. I now realise I’m at my most impactful when I choose not to kick off and show compassion instead. Good Vibrations helps me on the right track.

Now I’m an actor and a spoken word artist. I’ve been in two feature films and I run workshops for charities and in prisons. You can see some of my work here www.wordonthekerb.com. When I perform, I realise I have the power to influence people. It can be very easy to lead people in the right or the wrong direction, so it has to come with responsibility. I can see the rhythm of my childhood so clearly – people around me should have been able to see where I was heading. There, I did it again – when you grow up in care it’s easy to put responsibility onto others. We can’t hang about waiting for someone to save us, we need to save ourselves. The ultimate responsibility is with me. I always try to be better today than I was yesterday.

Remembering our patron Rahayu Supanggah

Remembering our patron Rahayu Supanggah

We are very saddened that our wonderful patron, Rahayu Supanggah, has passed away. He supported Good Vibrations for many years and was an incredibly talented composer and musician. He lived a long and full life, with over fifty years performing, composing and teaching gamelan in Indonesia and around the world. He was well known for writing music for theatre and films, won many awards for his compositions and was passionate about showcasing gamelan on an international stage. We were very privileged to have him as our patron.

Rahayu Supanggah had a close working relationship with many UK gamelan musicians, including several of the Good Vibrations team, dating back to the 1990s. He spent an afternoon in HMP Peterborough with one of our facilitators in 2008, and subsequently wrote of his experience in Indonesian newspapers. Our current Executive Director, Katy Haigh, had the good fortune to meet Rahayu Supanggah in 2017 at Cadogan Hall, London where his music for the film “Setan Jawa” was performed live on stage alongside the film. The music was haunting and beautiful, and incredibly exciting and innovative. Good Vibrations’ team members supported the production and the accompanying workshops and seminars as part of a 5-day London International Gamelan Festival.

As a person Rahayu Supanggah was always warm, friendly and welcoming to everyone, no matter how much experience or confidence they brought to his sessions. Talent and charisma shone through him and he inspired a new generation of gamelan players around the world. He will be missed very much and remembered with much affection.

Author: Good Vibrations

Self soothing practice

Self soothing practice

(Guest author: Elma Chapman)

Self Soothing Practice Finger Holds

The Ancient Art of Harmonising life energy in the body

My destiny is in my own hands – Mary Burmeister

The truth is that within each of us lies the power to cast all misery aside and to KNOW complete Peace and Oneness to BE that beautiful creation of perfect harmony to truly KNOW (Help) MYSELF – Mary Burmeister

This practice is the simplest form of maintaining good health – all illness begins with a slight imbalance of energy within the body systems – therefore let go the idea of how and why it works and just soothe yourself with the practice.

There is no cost involved, no equipment, it can be carried out anywhere, anytime – even on a busy bus, waiting in a traffic jam, watching telly – anywhere!

A good habit to get into is probably as you wind down to sleep and if you have the time, then first thing in the morning as you wake up in bed – nice start to the day.

To start with all you need is presence with yourself and of course your hands.

This practice will calm you and help you respond, rather than react to challenges life presents – will not take away the reality of the situation you find yourself in, but it will support you in how to deal with it.

The Practice:

    • Choose a finger
    • Wrap the opposite hand around it
    • Whilst holding it as long as you wish
    • Focus on your breath coming in and out
    • Give yourself permission to be present with yourself and relax
    • For the palm hold – you just place your thumb in the palm of the opposite hand – bit like holding your own hand – we all need someone to hold our hand – so why not yourself?

That is it – simple but effective – and available even as you chat/interview/meet your fears……………Happy Holding!

Restarting Covid-safe frontline delivery

Restarting Covid-safe frontline delivery

“Enjoying it so much they didn’t want to stop“
Good Vibrations’ experience of returning to front-line delivery post Covid

Six months ago, to protect participants and team members from the pandemic, Good Vibrations made the heart-breaking decision to stop front line delivery.

Two months ago, however, with virus rates decreasing, and after having worked with partner organisations to assess and put in place careful plans to manage the risks, we restarted three projects in a socially-distanced way. We are now delivering weekly music-making sessions at Wormwood Scrubs Prison and Bethlem Royal Hospital in London, and the Middle Street Resource Centre in Nottingham, and are confident that these sessions are bringing considerable benefits to people’s mental health.

HMP Wormwood Scrubs

Since the beginning of July, we have been running weekly, small group gamelan sessions in HMP Wormwood Scrubs’ Inpatient Unit. This unit houses about 20 people with mental health issues. This area has been deemed a ‘bubble’ as the patients on the wing remain on the wing, and do not have interaction with prisoners from the rest of the prison. Furthermore, there are protocols in place to ensure the physical health safety of all group participants. Each week our facilitator, John, works with two to five participants.

Lockdown measures in UK prisons from March have had, unsurprisingly, a negative effect on people’s mental well-being, with extra hours locked away in cell and all activities – e.g. education and arts projects – being cancelled. As far as we’re aware, Good Vibrations’ weekly sessions on the Inpatient Unit were one of the first activities to restart at this prison.

As usual on a Good Vibrations project or course, participants don’t need any musical experience to join in. Some will be musicians, but it’s not a requirement for playing the gamelan. When the group starts to play, it can be ‘all over the place’ musically for a while, with no beat or anything to latch onto, but gradually more musical sense emerges and interesting improvisations develop.

In some of the sessions, there is a real delicacy to the music-making. Sometimes the space feels safe but the music is fairly non-exploratory. At other times things are livelier, with dancing and individuals improvising solos that take the whole group off in a completely new direction. In between pieces, the group chat and open up a bit about their lives. The experience seems to help patients relax and smile more, which John says makes it feel very worthwhile.

“Overall, musically, it was a continuous stream of consciousness; some remarkable improvs, each one unrelated to what had gone before. They very definitely were enjoying it so much they didn’t want to stop.” (Good Vibrations Facilitator, John)

Sometimes nurses, officers, and cleaners join in. The mental health team, are especially sensitive to what is going on, and adept at giving space and supporting the process on a musical level. Good Vibrations has now become part of the routine on this ward, with staff there understanding the benefits of patients participating, referring them to sessions, and supporting them to attend.

The venue is ideal as music gently seeps out into the whole unit, giving it a lovely atmosphere. Sometimes John also plays and sings alone outside the rooms of older patients who don’t get out much, and they have told him how much they enjoy it.

As an organisation, we are delighted to have been allowed back into the prison after lockdown to help this group. Our initial impressions are that they seem to be benefiting from the experience in so many ways: from becoming better at listening and working with others; to being more flexible; to persevering with overcoming challenges; to growing in confidence in how they communicate with their peers.

Middle Street Resource Centre                                                         

We have also started running weekly gamelan sessions again at a community centre in Nottingham as part of our Resonate programme. These sessions are open to all, but targeted particularly at people experiencing mental illness. The sessions take place every Monday at Middle Street Resource Centre in Beeston, who we have partnered with for many years.

Our facilitator, Nikki, works with a regular group of up to five participants at any one time. Many of these are people we have supported in the past and most have fed-back that lock-down negatively impacted on their well-being.

Nikki maintained one-to-one contact with most of the core members of this group throughout lockdown through friendly calls and emails, and sharing information and links of interest. This seems to have been much appreciated. Conversations focused more on individuals’ wellbeing, feelings, and challenges they were facing. This built trust, helping Nikki be able to consult with them about when and how to bring back face to face sessions in a way they would feel confident about and safe to attend.

Some participants also attended Good Vibrations’ online samba and gamelan Zoom sessions during lockdown.

The lockdown has been particularly challenging for the majority of this group, with noticeably negative effects from social isolation, increased anxiety, and lack of structure resulting in lost sense of purpose. This has been especially true for those that were regular users of the centre.

There was a cautiousness, uncertainty and anxiety in the initial face to face sessions, mainly around changing government guidelines and the knock on effects these had to have on Middle Street Resource Centre’s rules around PPE, access and one way systems. The anxiety has eased as the weeks have gone by and sessions have become focussed on the music.

“All went well today with the first session. It was a nice gentle way back in and felt very safe. I set up workstations with a few instruments for each person so people could stay in one place and they had a set of beaters just for their use. All the participants received the new guidelines before the session.  I provided extra bits of PPE like spare disposable masks, and have put all the notations into plastic sleeves that can be wiped down.”  (Good Vibrations Facilitator, Nikki)

The room accommodates a maximum of five participants within social distancing guidelines so we have had to find ways of ensuring that all those who want to attend can. We have required participants to book in advance, but there are often last minute cancellations because people are experiencing a poor state of mental health on the day itself.

One participant particularly lacks self-confidence and has been previously very judgemental about his own musical ability, regularly saying, “I’m not musical”. When we started back, he struggled with timing and musical memory. He has attended every week since, however, enjoying improvising, listening back to the recordings, and working one-to one with Nikki. And now his confidence, listening skills, creativity, sensitivity of playing, and timing have really improved. On Monday, Nikki noticed him smile for the first time and express a sense of his achievement.

Bethlem Royal Hospital

We have also returned to Bethlem Royal Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in South East London, to run weekly Loophole Music sessions. Our facilitators, Jerome and Kieran run these one-to-one sessions, supporting individuals to make their own music using technology, voice, and western acoustic instruments. This is a setting we have been working in for more than 10 years.

“It feels good being back at Bethlem. Lockdown there meant that patients at River House were unable to attend a lot of their usual activities like the gym, and football matches. The community hub was also not open, so restarting Loophole meant they could get creative again.” (Good Vibrations Facilitator, Jerome)

Jerome and Kieran have been working intensively with six individuals here, helping them to produce their own tracks. The sessions take place in the Occupational Therapy Department which is open to the whole hospital. Patients currently attending are from the Adolescent Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit, River House Forensic Unit and the National Autism Unit. The positive aspect of doing Covid-safe one-to-one sessions is that it allows adolescent patients to attend, who normally are restricted from mixing with other adult participants.

The project is booked up, showing the demand for creative activities in this setting. One 17 year old patient is fully engaged, learning about music production and mixing using Logic Pro and GarageBand. Two forensic patients are enjoying recording hip hop tracks, and another patient with autism, is loving using the iPads, with his occupational therapist telling us, “Simon (not his real name) is really benefitting from these sessions. It is rewarding to see him having some positive engagement and enjoying himself. This is a side we have not really seen before.”

We plan to develop this work over the autumn by: adding in extra morning sessions to meet demand; bringing on a past participant as a volunteer; and celebrating participants’ work through an online showcase.

Looking ahead

Of course, given the uncertainty around the pandemic, it’s difficult for us to know what will happen over the next weeks and months, whether we will gradually begin to do more face to face work in different settings, slowly start increasing group sizes, or whether we will have to suspend all activity again if there is another lockdown. But, whatever happens, we know now that we are able to work safely and effectively with participants, that we can be flexible and responsive to different settings, and that our team of facilitators are capable and confident of supporting vulnerable participants to feel safe enough to take a step back into creative, communal activity, which in turn will help improve their mental health and resilience in these uncertain times.

authors: Katy Haigh, Good Vibrations Executive Director, with John, Nikki, Jerome and Kieran