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Can playing in an Indonesian percussion orchestra help people who’ve been unemployed for years to build confidence and get more work-ready?

Surrey, Sussex and Berkshire District Jobcentre Plus piloted an extraordinary programme this October with 20 long-term unemployed clients, 78% of whom considered themselves to have a disability or health condition. The group learnt to play an Indonesian tuned-percussion orchestra (called a Gamelan) from scratch, culminating in a live performance and production of a professionally-produced CD at the end of the week. 75% of participants completed the full course.

This Department for Work and Pensions’ Flexible-Support-Funded pilot tackled a stubborn problem in the Hastings area; that despite unemployment rates falling, many long-term unemployed people remain far from the labour market.

The programme was delivered by national charity Good Vibrations, whose patron is Bill Bailey. JCP’s District Provision Manager, who went to the end-of-project performance, said: “It was a very positive visit, with much evidence shown by participants of distance travelled towards the labour market.”

Through learning to play Gamelan as a group, participants developed transferable skills, which will help them socially-participate more confidently; 88% of completers developed team-working skills and 71% developed communication skills. Most participants said they now feel more comfortable in group settings. A Work Coach commented: “The improvement in confidence is amazing. One guy never talked to anyone, except his wife before, and the way he spoke to the audience was incredible.”

Participants became more motivated and open to change by the end of the course: ”My new thing since Gamelan is to say yes. I have fibromyalgia and myalgic encephalitis, which cause chronic pain and a host of other symptoms. I get anxious travelling further than my local town, experiencing new things and meeting new people. The Gamelan course allowed me to overcome my fears. It helped me feel good about my abilities, instead of feeling useless. Since then I plan to do a Reiki course and have re-joined the local library, both of which are enormous steps for me.”

One man said the course helped him a lot; “I’ve been looking for positives – I’ve had a lot of tragedies recently.” 76% of completers said it improved their well-being, and 74% their resilience, which suggests the experience will support people to handle everyday challenges and set-backs better.

Last week’s Spending Review, showed the Government is focused on supporting people with disabilities and health conditions who have been unemployed for a long time, to return to, and remain in, work. It is introducing a new Work and Health Programme and a real terms increase in funding to support this area of work. Good Vibrations’ Gamelan programme has real potential to support this agenda nationwide, and has the added benefit of helping claimants to trust JCP more – “I was anti-Jobcentre, but now I’m pleased with it.”

To find out more about the pilot programme, please email Jane at info@good-vibrations.org.uk requesting a copy of the condensed project evaluation report.

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Photography by Toby Madden/The Independent, Osman Deen/South London Press, Camilla Panufnik, Elspeth Van Der Hole, GDA Design, Gigi Chiying Lam, G. Bland, Alan Bryden, Mark Carlin, Rachel Cherry, Francois Boutemy, Andy Hollingworth, Rebaz Yassin, and Guy Smallman.

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