Good Vibrations Annual Report and Accounts 2020/21

Good Vibrations Annual Report and Accounts 2020/21

October 2021

Jonathan Hollow writes:

We are delighted to share our 2020-21 annual report and accounts with you.

I’ve been very proud to be Chair of Good Vibrations, so it’s with some regret that I pen my last overview of our annual progress, as always on behalf of myself and all my fellow trustees. But I had always thought that about four years was the right duration for a chair’s leadership, and I’m delighted that I will be able to continue as a trustee under our excellent new chair, Nick Jolliffe.

The year this annual report covers has been bittersweet too. Like everything everywhere, it has been dominated by the pandemic. For perfectly sound health reasons prisons have been forced to limit prisoners’ contact with outside organisations in order to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

This meant that one of our most important delivery settings has been almost completely closed over the time this report covers. Quite apart from the frustration for us as an organisation, we have been heartbroken to think of so many prisoners locked in their cells for almost all the time, deprived of human contact, stimulus, and encouragement to find new interests and skills on their journey back to the outside world.

When we met as trustees at the beginning of the pandemic, the unknowns were so many that we wondered whether we would need to shutter the charity, furlough staff, and wait until the world righted itself. In fact, our worst fears were not realised. Although there has been a gaping hole in delivery, we have in fact managed to make good use of the time and space the pandemic forced upon us.

First of all, we were blessed by the fantastic generosity and pragmatism of our funders. We contacted them to see what stance they would take now that almost all our traditional delivery locations were closed to us. I want to thank them for the flexibility they offered. Some allowed us to defer funding into the following financial year, when there was an expectation that delivery could resume. Some allowed us to change what we used their funding for. This enabled us to use digital channels to deliver joy, creativity and even collaboration through the use of the gamelan and Indonesian shadow puppetry. Some even offered us additional funds to help us navigate these uncertain times.

This prompted an explosion of creativity and talent from our staff and associates, in media we had not previously asked them to explore. Their mastery of the technology, and the vibrant uses they put it to, underlines just how creative an organisation Good Vibrations is at its core. You will find many examples of those brilliant creative works in the rest of this report. I strongly encourage you to find and watch at least one or two of them.

As for face-to-face-delivery, we were fortunate that in some settings, for at least some of the time, we were able to safely continue to deliver the power of the communal music-making. We did weekly face-to-face work in Nottingham, Wormwood Scrubs Prison, and Bethlem Royal Hospital.

Before the year began, we had been in conversations with the BBC about our Radio 4 appeal. We weren’t sure what the implications of the pandemic were for this, but they turned out to be almost zero. Not only were we able to work with the extraordinary Benjamin Zephaniah, the ideal spokesman for the power of art to transform prison lives. But more than that, when we broadcast in August, we found that Radio 4 listeners were as generous as they have ever been, and took us to their hearts.

The resulting total of £26,536 raised was a memorable milestone for our charity, and has led to other boosts to individual giving

I am also extremely grateful to the anonymous donor who gave a substantial sum to be used as a hardship fund, in case our associates were unable to access the help they needed from other, public sources during the pandemic.

As trustees, we have been able to work with the leadership to continue to develop and strengthen the charity during the pandemic. The main fruit of this work was a revised and updated strategy document to take us to the end of our strategy period in 2023.

This reaffirmed our view that although there are many settings where our work can have an impact, our work in prisons is and always will be central to our mission. We renewed our ambition to increase the number of people we help in this setting, and to increase the depth and significance of the sessions we deliver to them.

But we have simultaneously begun a major digital project: to create an open-access digital gamelan, which could be used online and offline, in a variety of settings that includes prisons. This is an exciting development with many new possibilities for our work.

Two other new themes in this strategic review were: deepening and sharpening our approach to diversity and inclusion; and responding appropriately to the challenges of sustainability and the climate emergency. They are impulses we are taking into this strategy period, and still working on. As trustees, we certainly don’t have all the answers, but one thing I’m delighted about is the way that the use of Zoom democratised our strategy awaydays. It brought a much wider range of passionate and informed voices into our debates. I’m sure that approach will continue.

If you are reading this report, you are generously supporting Good Vibrations through your interest and engagement. I want to offer my thanks to everyone who has continued to “will us on” during this very challenging year.

None of us can wait to be back in the full flow of delivery, in all the different settings we found commonplace before the pandemic. We hope to be able to deliver far more face to face activity again in 2021-22. People in institutional settings, particularly prisons, need the stimulus and creative warmth of art and music more than ever before.

 

We welcome Nick Jolliffe, incoming Chair of Good Vibrations

We welcome Nick Jolliffe, incoming Chair of Good Vibrations

October 2021

Nick Jolliffe talks to Fundraising and Communications Manager, Rachel Levay, about his new role:

 

Firstly, congratulations! This is the start of an exciting new chapter for us. Would you like to say a few words to introduce yourself?

Yes, I’ve been a trustee with Good Vibrations for just over three years and I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s a great organisation. I remember going to see my first gamelan project at HMP Thorn Cross – it was extraordinary. Being a trustee has helped me understand how organisations work, and how they can be supported to develop. During that time, my career has been developing too, from working for KPMG in London, to becoming a chartered accountant, and now working for Morrisons supermarket in finance.

How have you found the experience of being a trustee at Good Vibrations?

It’s a tale of two stories. In the first half I saw Good Vibrations gain more stability, deliver to more people, and expand the team. Then covid-19 hit, with all the challenges and risks that it brought. But it caused so many creative offshoots and insights too, and has helped us focus on what really matters for the people we work with. It’s been really excellent to be a part of both of those stories.

We work with some very marginalised people across the UK, what would you like to say to them about what you can bring to the role as chair?

Good Vibrations is a collaborative organisation, and it’s never going to be just one person at the top. I know that what we do matters, so as Chair, I’ll be ensuring we deliver what we do well, in as many places and to as many people as possible. I see it as my role to make sure we have the right people at all levels – trustees, staff and facilitators – and that all the things around that – fundraising, governance etc. – are effective, and support a strong and healthy organisation.

But overriding all of that, I want to focus on who our participants are and understand their needs, what the research says our projects can do for them, and how that informs what we do at a higher level. That will always be something I try to keep at the heart of any decision making.

What are your priorities for the next six months?

I have four key areas that I will prioritise:

  • To secure a new CEO when Katy Haigh, our current executive director, leaves at the end of the year. I’m looking forward to working with them to push us forward against our strategy, and to finding out what other opportunities they see for the future.
  • Getting back to delivery is going to be fantastic. All the digital work we did over lockdown was brilliant and showed the depth of capability in the organisation. But at heart we’ve always been people who go into prisons, secure hospitals and the community to physically deliver projects. Returning to what we know, as safely as possible, is really welcome.
  • The digital gamelan is very exciting. I saw the most recent trial version and had a play on it. Over the years I’ve seen many versions of digital instruments, but I’ve never seen anything as well designed and intuitive as this digital gamelan. It’s still in its first stage of development, and has the scope to go anywhere.
  • Making sure that conversations and planned strategy relating to diversity and inclusion are implemented. Tangible actions will not only make us a better organisation, but will have a positive impact on our present and past participants, and on people from sections of society we have not typically engaged with or have struggled to reach.

Is there anything that you are particularly looking forward to achieving?

A new trustee who has been in prison and has that lived experience. We have a professor of criminology and a former prison governor on the board, who both bring valuable expertise, but that view of somebody who has been in prison, and potentially on one of our courses in prison, is invaluable. One person can’t speak for everyone who has been in prison – the current population is just over 80,000 – but nevertheless it’s a view that we need.

I also plan to buddy up trustees with people who may not come forward as trustees through normal advertising, including past participants, so we can bring in views from marginalised sections of society. My hope is that one of those people will become a trustee in future.

That would be a great thing for Good Vibrations, but often charities struggle to make it happen in practice.

Yes, there are some restrictions about who can become a trustee, especially if they have a criminal record. But the rules can exclude people who would be excellent serving as a board member. There are ways around that and I am really looking forward to leaning into that challenge, and hopefully more organisations will start to take those steps too.

What do you think makes Good Vibrations such an effective charity?

Since knowing that I would become chair, I’ve been trying to get to speak to everyone in the organisation. I don’t think I’d fully comprehended how incredible Good Vibrations is. People have used phrases like ‘It’s what makes Good Vibrations unique and special’. And each time I hear that I say, ‘What does that mean to you?’ The answer always focuses on core values around community acting together, working with people who are in really, really tough circumstances and actually delivering positive outcomes for them. It’s about helping people, and it’s been really affirming to hear that.

It’s vital that we listen to participants; this should always come first and everything must lead from them. Thinking ‘let’s make sure Good Vibrations thrives’ loses sight of the end goal, which is to reform criminal justice and make a more empathetic society for people to live in. Now, that would make a real difference to the lives of the people of we work with.

Exciting times ahead!

Extremely! I’m very much looking forward to it.

 

 

Jonathan Hollow steps down after four successful years as Chair of Good Vibrations

Jonathan Hollow steps down after four successful years as Chair of Good Vibrations

October 2021

Jonathan Hollow, reflects on his time as Chair of Good Vibrations and the developments he has seen during his tenure:

“It’s been a great honour to chair such a vibrant national charity, with so many fascinating dimensions to its work.

“I’ve thrilled to the creative connection and confidence that I see flowering at our prison playthroughs. I’ve been moved to see the growth of our work in communities, especially in Glasgow, and the caring continuity we offer to patients in mental health settings. And I’ve been heartened by our ongoing commitment to research and evaluation, which makes our footprint so much larger on the national and international stage.

“Although at the beginning of the pandemic I was very worried, like many charity chairs, about what the future held, it has actually brought out further strengths for Good Vibrations. The pandemic showed the strength of our relationship with our funders, who offered us tremendous support and flexibility. And it brought out the extraordinary creative skills of our associates, who looked at how they could capture the power of the gamelan and the spirit of what we try to achieve through digital and online media. This is a direction we are now pursuing further with our vision of a free, digital gamelan that can be used for individual learning and group collaboration in a wide variety of settings.

“The passion behind Good Vibrations has needed no assistance or urging on from me. Over the four years I’ve been Chair I’ve felt the proper focus of my work was making sure we had an ambitious and grounded strategy, and ensuring that our financial and management systems were supporting it as strongly as possible. We’ve managed to improve many aspects of these. As examples, since I started as Chair we’ve managed to set aside the maximum unrestricted reserves we think we would need to call on in lean times, and seen a 60% increase in individual giving.

“Our new two-year strategy pushes further and deeper in the same direction, so I’m very excited to help new Chair Nick Jolliffe deliver it, by continuing as a trustee.”

Good Vibrations is looking for a new Chief Executive

Good Vibrations is looking for a new Chief Executive

UK charity Good Vibrations is looking for a new Chief Executive to lead its work across the UK in prisons, young offender institutions, secure hospitals and the community.

Through accessible group music making projects, and individual progression support, the charity inspires and motivates people with mental health needs, people in challenging circumstances, and people with disabilities, giving them tools to help them realise their true potential, and to build more positive futures.

This job description tells you more about the Chief Executive role. To apply, complete an application and equal opportunities form, and email them to rosie@good-vibrations.org.uk by 12pm on 24 September 2021. We particularly welcome applications from people from diverse backgrounds, including from people with a previous conviction.

  • We will let applicants know if they have been shortlisted by 1 October
  • We plan to run first round interviews on Zoom on 6 and 8 October
  • We plan to run second round ‘interviews’ (which will include an immersive workshop experience and task) in the week of the 11 October in London

UPDATE: Please will applicants keep the following dates and times free for interviews:

  • 6th October (PM) and 8th October (AM) – 1st interviews taking place
  • 14th October (ALL DAY) – 2nd interviews taking place
From prison art to lockdown art to…

From prison art to lockdown art to…

Author and artist Ruinbow writes for Good Vibrations about how he got into art while in prison, his experience of being an art mentor, and his drive to make art accessible for all.

 

I did not take to art easily, I found it really boring and a bit pretentious. I thought most of it was just crap. I did not like the tutor in prison. She just wanted me to do colour wheels and draw pictures of apples, none of which interested me.

I was sitting in my cell one evening and my cellmate was watching something on TV. I was flicking through a magazine and I thought, “I could draw that,” I picked up a pencil and started drawing on some scrap paper. I was really happy with the results at the time.

On reflection, the artwork is not that good but it is the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction that drove me forward.
I kept questioning my ability at every stage with the desire to become better. I focused mainly on portraits and people approached me on the wing to draw for them in return for chocolate and shower gels (prison currency).

I became an art mentor in prison, working under the tutor that I didn’t take to, after being a maths and English mentor for education. I had already established myself as a trusted prisoner (not an oxymoron) within this role. The art tutor liked my work and knew that I could guide other people in the right direction. My favourite type of person was those who said they could not draw or do art. I just had to help them become confident with drawing. I never did any demonstrations for them but I gave them advice. I told them, you are just worried that what you draw does not look good or right, but when you were a kid, you probably didn’t even think about ability. You just drew!

I taught them to draw a circle using just words. I gave them a piece of paper, pencil and rubber. I said, “draw a circle” and they started to draw, some took their time and had a shaky line and some created an egg shaped blob. I asked them, “is that a circle?” and they replied “no”, so I gave them the option to correct it and every time they would rub out what they had drawn and tried again. I told them not to do that, never ever to do that. I explained what they have on the paper is not far off from being a circle and if they keep rubbing it out and starting again, they will keep on making the same mistakes. I told them to use what they have done as a guide and to imagine a clock 12, 3, 6, and 9. So split the circle into quarters. Ask yourself questions. What is wrong with that part of the circle? How can I make it better? I instructed them to draw a correct line over the wrong line (or a better line) and only when the better line is down on the paper, then and only then can you rub out the wrong line. I sort of became like a driving instructor, I just told them what to do and they were really happy with their results

They kept asking to see my work and they wanted me to draw for them as well so this gave me a regular source of income (the chocolate and shower gels). Being the art mentor also gave me a status of being the guy to go to for drawings. At first, I was charging £3 for an A4 piece and £5 for an A3 piece but as I became more popular I started to charge £25 for anything. I read loads of books on technique and I learned about a lot of artists in prison.

 

One day I noticed Koestler Awards advertised in the prison and I decided to enter. The drawing below won a First Time Entrant Award, Bronze Award, Highly Commended and this year my artwork was selected for exhibition.

 

 

 

The money that I received from Koestler I have invested in art materials.

I have recently been diagnosed with autism and there are several traits that support my passion for art. I have good attention to detail and I became obsessed with art, just wanting to know everything about everything.

Recently, I have been working on an idea that came to me from the pandemic. I noticed rainbows everywhere and this became a symbol of gratitude and hope. I thought because this was plastered everywhere on TV, in people’s houses and in shops, people will just associate these colours and the rainbow with the pandemic in the future, therefore they will be ruined.

I watched a documentary a couple of months ago about Banksy and I have seen how he works and creates his images. I started to do the same but appropriated the images with rainbows. I call these ruinbows. Before watching the documentary, I had the idea but the style was more of a multicoloured line drawing, starting with the lightest colour, and working to a darker colour building it up to a more accurate representation.

As I have recently left prison I am homeless myself, but I do have a roof over my head so I am in a better position than those sleeping rough. That is why I have decided to give away signed prints of my work to homeless people, so they can display and sell the work if they want to. It annoys me when people just walk past the homeless like their lives are so much more important than the insignificant people in shop doorways.

Why don’t people stop and talk to them, say hello, perhaps give them a little bit of money, and so what if they were to buy fags and booze with the money? I’m on benefits and I try to give a pound a week away to the homeless. I don’t think anyone should be homeless.

What I’m working on now

This piece didn’t take me too long to complete but it is for all of those people out there who make the excuse, “I cannot draw, I can only draw stick men” that they can still create recognisable works of art and it is what they do with those stickmen to create artwork.

 

 

 

This piece is again trying to urge those people who say they can only draw stick men to just give art a try. The fact you can only draw stick men is not a reason not to draw with them. People care too much about what they think an image is supposed to look like and because they can’t replicate that, they give up.

 

 

 

 

 

This piece took me two days to complete and it was really therapeutic. I was definitely in the moment with it and I couldn’t focus on anything else. I did not worry about any of life’s problems when creating it. This piece is not yet finished as I need to place the rainbow on it but you can see the process on how these pieces work. It took me a while to draw and create the black and white image, but I have now created stencils to make it easier to reproduce the image over and over again. There are 2 stencils that make up the image, a silhouette of the whole thing, all sprayed white. Then a flimsy little stencil to cover up the white parts and this is overlaid then sprayed black. The stencils are made out of cereal boxes as they are cheap material to work with. I want people to understand that making art does not need to be expensive.

 

 

 

I did this sketch on the way to Liverpool on the bus. Outside the window is just a road but on the sketchpad is the Mersey tunnel. I had a lot more time drawing the inside of the bus and the sketchpad with hands but in the tunnel was time limited. I had to work really quickly and decide which part of the tunnel to draw because there is a lot of turns and ups and downs in the tunnel. I got down most of the information on the first time through but completed it on the way back.

 

My artwork has definitely developed since I was released from prison in February because I now have immediate access to materials and can look at other artwork in galleries and online. I’m looking forward to seeing where my art takes me in the future.
The wheelchair is invisible

The wheelchair is invisible

On 11 April, Linda Yates, Margaret Smith and Heather Strohschein presented The wheelchair is invisible – a conversation about accessibility and inclusivity in the time of Covid  at MACSEM 2021, a conference organised by the Mid-Atlantic Chapter for the Society for Ethnomusicology.

  • Margaret – a community musician who facilitates Good Vibrations’ Resonate project, which provides inclusive musical workshops
  • Linda – an amateur musician, participant advisor for Good Vibrations and representative of people with additional support needs
  • Heather – an ethnomusicologist whose works centres on gamelan outside of Indonesia, and community music-making

The video paper explored inclusivity, consent, ethnomusicology, academic language and accessibility. It was crafted from hours of conversations between Scotland and the USA. In it, Linda defined an inclusive session as one where, “All of it involves everybody. Nobody says, ‘You’re disabled, you can’t play that’. You learn at your own pace. Each person has got a different level of ability and they learn in their own time.” And, Heather, said the pandemic enabled her to do things she would never have been able to do before, like go to Resonate sessions (online) – “I can’t pop down to Resonate in Glasgow from Bowling Green, Ohio, usually!”

The approach they took and the resulting film was notably different, at an academic ethnomusicology conference. Katherine Metz, Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology at Oberlin College, who was chairing the panel, was visibly moved. Delegates were “In awe of the presentation”. They “Loved this approach in that it’s focused on how it feels to engage with this process”. They remarked, “We so often lose the laughter in the translation to the academic realm”, and felt that “This presentation and format speaks to so many issues”.

Linda, Margaret and Heather want their conversation about accessibility and inclusivity to become a conversation with you. They invite you to watch it, share it and use it to start a conversation. Please feedback your thoughts by emailing Heather on  hastrohs@hawaii.edu or Mags on mags@good-vibrations.org.uk.

Date: 25 June, 2021

Author: Katy Haigh, Executive Director, Good Vibrations

Good Vibrations’ film premiere

Good Vibrations’ film premiere

On the evening of 21st May, Good Vibrations hosted the film premiere of Beyond Performance, within an intimate, online event attended by the artists who created it, plus an invited audience.

The film combines an eclectic mix of shadow puppetry and music. It was created collaboratively through an online project run by director Sarah Stuchfield, professional artists, and old and new Good Vibrations participants across the UK. It was funded by Arts Council England.

Although there is no set narrative to the film, the group created shadow puppet clips with the suggestion of what they would like to do, or where they would like to be, after the pandemic -the result being a powerful and aspirational film.

During the post-premiere Q&A session, audience members and the artists involved fed-back:

“The filming, puppetry and music were lovely – just wonderful.”

“Really rich. Would want to see it again. Love the colours. There was a warmth – of ‘Balloon Love’, of ‘Unstuck’, of the anchor, of ‘Triangle Man’, and the bat – I love the bat finding light. Really beautiful. Loved it!”

“A super combination of music and puppeteering… Lovely characterisation both in appearance and movement.”

“It had an intense vibe. I got a sense of longing and of aliveness about it.”

““It was an amazing kit we got in the post to make the puppets. Taking part got me off Netflix – crafting and playing. A lovely experience.”

“It got us well away from our current times.”

“We’ve all been locked in, but by doing this we’ve been allowed out. I’m looking forward to what people create next now that they’ve got the equipment and the skills.”

You can watch it on our YouTube channel

Opening Up – Collective Joy in Prison and Beyond

Opening Up – Collective Joy in Prison and Beyond

‘Hozho is not something you can experience on your own,
the eagles tell us as they lock talons in the stratosphere
and fall to the earth as one.

 Hozho is interbeauty.’

 Lyla June Johnston – Hozho

 

As a trainee Good Vibrations facilitator, my first visit to a prison was not a typical one. As I approached the grey, hunched, fort-like building, went through security, and was led through a maze of corridors, locked doors and barbed wire fence I felt my body tense up with claustrophobia and anxiety. This combined uneasily with the guilty relief that I was a visitor – not a resident – of such a place. Yet not long after this, I was in a nondescript backroom surrounded by tuned, ornate brass Gamelan instruments resonating together in harmony, improvising and composing a unique and beautiful piece of music (listen below) with a group of smiling strangers. My nervous system was confused, to say the least.

I don’t recall exactly when I heard the expression ‘collective joy’, but I remember that satisfying sense of something being named which needed naming. In a basic sense, it refers to that transcendent feeling of connection and creative communion we can experience only in relationship with others. We need collective joy, and, after a year of lockdown restrictions and enforced ‘social isolation’, we are missing it now, more than ever. As such, we are in a better position than usual to imagine, in some miniscule way, what life might be like for the 80,000 odd people in the UK – and some nine million worldwide – who were isolated in prisons before the pandemic, and have suffered even harsher conditions since, locked up for an average of 22 hours a day.

Is there even any such thing as joy which isn’t collective? According to Jeremy Gilbert, a cultural theory academic and DJ I interviewed last summer for Good Vibrations, joy is ‘always sort of collective. You can experience collective joy sitting quietly in a library, relating to people through reading their books…’ . Yet there is something particularly important about the ability to experience connection with other humans in the flesh; the multidimensional complexity of another being responding to your own complexity in the moment.

Collective joy is in no way a given in the presence of other humans of course – in a traffic jam, say, or at a gathering at which you feel unwelcome or disconnected from, or even fearful of, the people around you. Some degree of safety (both real and perceived) and trust in the people around you is a necessary condition for collective joy. It is inevitably hard to access in an oppressive institutional setting like a prison. This is one of the main problems with the existing criminal justice system, as Gilbert puts it: ‘there’s a tendency for prison to produce people who come out more alienated than they went in, and less able to effectively relate to other people around them’.

This analysis is borne out by another moving interview with Good Vibrations past participant and former prisoner, Russ Haynes: ‘You’re on guard 24/7… the way I survived was to close up… you’re careful who you speak to, you’re really careful about what you say, where you go, who you interact with… and all of that happening on a day to day basis can be really mentally exhausting’. Yet even small, genuine experiences of collective joy can cultivate the ability to trust in others and see collectivity as a source of potential joy, empowerment and liberation, as he described recalling his first experience of a gamelan workshop:

‘There was something about it that was so… and this sounds really cringey but it’s the only one I can use to describe it… so spiritual. I just felt there was a sense of freedom. It was the first time I felt truly free to express how I was feeling through music. It took me away from my environment. I remember how I felt, it was so calming, it was so spiritual, it was so relaxing. That stone of anger that I had inside me was starting to break away and I was not only connecting with the guys around me, but connecting with the battle I was having inside of myself at the time. And it opened me up to experience emotions that I was suppressing because of my anger, because I didn’t want to be perceived as weak as I felt. The whole thing gave me an experience I needed at the time, which was to be able to relax and feel something. For me, it was my first step to communicating with the outside world, which before I was refusing to let in.’

Gilbert’s understanding of the phenomenon of collective joy is influenced by the 17th Century German philosopher Baruch Spinoza. In this understanding, it refers to ‘that dimension of any experience which is a product of even a microscopic enhancement of a subject’s capacities’. Collective joy is a form of freedom in other words. Not the kind of freedom associated with the rugged individual (usually male) hero, enforcing his will upon the world, but the empowered freedom you feel when you transcend your limited capacity as an individual via acting together, consensually and creatively with others. Prison in this sense restricts not just your literal freedom to move, but your ability and your natural instinct to access liberatory forms of collectivity. 

Collective joy, and the impacts of its absence, is not a topic relevant purely to the experience of prison, or even of lockdown. I think this concept means so much to me because, as someone who has experienced chronic depression since my early twenties, genuine collective joy feels like its opposite. Depression is the ultimate feeling of psychic isolation, alienation and disconnection; a prison of the soul. At its worst it is not a feeling of sadness, or even despair, but of nothingness, and it is very much a ‘disease of civilisation’ (i.e Western civilisation). Recovery and staying well for me has always been associated with an ability to reach out and connect with the people and the world around me.

The sad truth is, experiencing this kind of collectivity was, for many of us, an all too rare experience even before the pandemic.  This is not to say we crave collectivity all of the time, of course. Many of us, myself included, need and appreciate ‘alone’ time, but we are social mammals nonetheless. Forced isolation, and its associated affective state, loneliness, is not just an unpleasant emotional reality impacting our mental health, but is increasingly recognised as a devastating threat to physical health with a mortality risk impact akin to smoking.

Before ‘socially isolating’ became a public health instruction, it was mostly known as a public health problem, with increasing attempts to address it, and identify its deep root causes. Some point to the loss of community and shared spaces of collectivity associated with the decline of religion. I formerly worked as a Community Organiser for secular congregational community Sunday Assembly, founding a new congregation in the East End of London. Sunday Assembly was founded in 2013 by two comedians, Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans, who wanted to recreate the feelings of community and connection they remembered from attending church in their youth, without the framing of a faith they had since lost.  They kept the basic ingredients of a church service; a reason to get up and be with others on a Sunday morning; a shared celebration of life in all its tragedy; an emphasis on community service and crucially communal singing – pop singalongs with a live band.

The first assemblies were a huge success and the idea quickly gained traction, leading to assemblies springing up around the world. Yet I remember the first time I attended an assembly, and the awkwardness and reluctance I felt – and felt others feel – when asked to stand and sing with a room of strangers. That feeling got easier to manage and bypass but never fully disappeared: though we crave it, collective joy doesn’t always come naturally anymore, because it’s culturally pretty alien to many of us. We can very quickly feel ‘self-conscious’ – worried about embarrassing our all-important individual selves. How many of us are able to dance and sing enthusiastically and freely without the aid of alcohol for instance? What does our culture do to our children – such natural dancers –  to inhibit them from doing so when they grow up?

Sunday Assembly East End

This line of inquiry has inherently political implications. Gilbert places at least some of the blame on the dominant political and economic ideology forced on the world over the last 50 years: neoliberalism:

‘Under advanced capitalist culture, neoliberal culture, we are discouraged from experiencing collectivity as joyful, we’re encouraged to think of any meaningful or satisfying experience as being by its nature private… we are encouraged to feel that the only truly satisfying and meaningful agency in the world is to buy something and to consume it… we’re encouraged to think of every aspect of lives in terms of something that we’re acquiring, something we’re buying, something we’re making an investment in from everything from relationships to education.’

This loss has deeper and older roots, however, and it is perhaps no accident that Good Vibrations employs a non-Western (Indonesian) musical form to facilitate experiences of collective joy. In ‘Dancing in the Streets – A History of Collective Joy’ Barbara Ehrenreich details the fascination and horror of early European colonialists when they witnessed the ‘almost ubiquitous practice of ecstatic ritual’, in which large groups of people in the cultures they encountered would ‘dance, sing or chant to a state of exhaustion and, beyond that, sometimes trance. Such examples of collective joy and ritual ‘ecstasy’ are well known to anthropologists as universal human impulses, which have had to be heavily repressed to facilitate the strange, lonely and disconnected individual selfhood prized and developed in the West, then exported forcibly upon the rest of world over the last five hundred years or so. Even now the forms of music and dance we associate with contemporary Western cultures of collective joy, from jazz to techno, largely have their roots in the African diaspora.

Weekly ‘Tam Tam’ jam session in Montreal, Quebec

Experiences of collective joy, particularly through music, can facilitate deep healing, in the most inhospitable of conditions, supporting people who are locked up, whether in literal and psychological cell, to experience, even for a moment, the possibility of a world beyond. Yet this has lessons for our wider culture too, about what we’ve lost and what we need to heal collectively. Going further, it may even have implications for our relationship to not just ourselves and each other but the natural world. Can opening up to the world beyond our individual selfhood begin to undo the dangerous disconnection from the ecological foundations of life, which has in no small part facilitated the devastation we continue to wreck upon it?

Collective Joy in this sense seems to me to relate to the untranslatable word ‘Hozho’, said to be the most important word in Diné Bizaad, a Native American language, and described by Navajo poet Lyla June Johnston (quoted at the beginning) as a sense of ‘interbeauty’, in which we feel intimately connected to all of life. As ecological activist and philosopher, Joanna Macy argues, to truly transform our relationship to the natural world, instead of ‘caring’ for nature as an abstract other, we must ‘extend our notions of self-interest; ‘it would not occur to me to plead with you, “Don’t saw off your leg. That would be an act of violence.” It wouldn’t occur to me because your leg is part of your body. Well, so are the trees in the Amazon rain basin. They are our external lungs. We are beginning to realize that the world is our body.’

Ende Gelände anti-coal protest, 2016

This may sound like a standard hippie appeal to oneness. But the more we learn about ecology, biology and physics, the more it turns out the hippies were right, right?  Everything is connected, and, like love, this reality is only a superficial cliche to the extent it is abstract and disembodied. When you truly experience it, you know it. You feel great, you smile at the people and the world around you, and feel part of it again… yet you also open up yourself to deep grief at the violence we regularly do to each other and the biosphere. To ourselves. In this sense perhaps collective joy can only truly be accessed if we are prepared to open ourselves up to collective grief. Perhaps this is the deepest reason so many of us are resistant to it.

Perhaps it is time to open the gates and let it all in.

 

You can support the excellent work of Good Vibrations by donating to my fundraising page. I’ve taken on the huge challenge of running the London Marathon for the first time on Sunday 3 October in aid of the charity. I’m aiming to raise at least £1,500, so any help towards that target would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!!

Music as a form of communication and healing

Music as a form of communication and healing

Guest Author: Anu Koechli

As human beings one of the most fascinating elements of our species is our creative capabilities with the creation and development of music over tens of thousands of years. Recent technological developments over the last few decades have allowed for scientific discoveries showing how sound frequencies are proven to promote healing both physically and mentally through using instruments or bio-resonance devices. Below we will explore a small collection of ancient instruments from various cultures with a focus on Gamelan, my experience of attending Gamelan sessions with Good Vibrations and some information on the connection between sound frequencies and the Universe itself.

Instruments, the universe & history

Our planet exists in a sound and communication orientated universe. Our ancient civilisations knew about this and respected it so which is why one of the main constants we have throughout history is the evolution of music along with the evolution of humans since our very ancient ancestors first figured out how to use animal hide stretched over carved tree trunks to create drums.

Drumming circles are believed to be one of the first musical instruments used in early tribal culture in early Gondwanaland – the first large continent of the earth before tectonic plate movements that split land into different pieces, but we can trace the early developments of drums to what is now Africa. Drumming combined with singing and chanting brought humans together in celebration or ceremony. Over tens of thousands of years humans have developed a vast spectrum of instruments to create sound, to play with different sounds and create music that enabled us to explore not only the exterior physical dimension we live in and how it works but also allowed us to explore deep within ourselves what we are capable of creating and how we communicate with each other.

(Source: Djembe Art, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18082929)

When you start to explore the rich variety of musical instruments around the world in different cultures and tribes it becomes intriguing how our ancestors must have gone through a lot of trial and error to figure out how to carve and build some of the most beautiful instruments out there.

Australian Aborigines created didgeridoos from finding dead tree branches that were hollowed out by rot and termites, though modern ones are made by splitting a tree branch in half and carving out the middle. They’re used by Aborigines in Dreamtime stories that show the didgeridoo as an essential tool in the creation of the world as well as a device invented directly by the gods and they class it as a sacred instrument which is used in both public and private religious ceremonies.

(Source: By Hmarin – Self-made image, from photos of my didgeridoo collection, Public Domain, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19164391)

Ancient South American Incas created panpipes made from hollowed out bamboo or reed canes strapped together in varying lengths that create beautiful melodies that bring to mind a relaxing sense of calm and serenity which many of these people lived by up in the Andes, growing their own food, having spiritual ceremony together and paying respect to the eagle as it flies overhead.

(Source: Photograph by Andrew Dunn. Website: http://www.andrewdunnphoto.com/, CC BY-SA 1.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=268710)

The Kora of West Africa and Sitar of India are both created from either dried and hollowed out Gourds or Pumpkins with a long wooden neck that allow for several string to be attached, that once played in harmonious melody can transport our minds away from the problems we face in the physical world almost to a higher and happier state of consciousness.

(Source: By KannanShanmugamstudio, Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18077100)

(Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sitar)

It becomes clear to see how over long periods of time different tribes around the world have created instruments based on the materials they have around them which are then very unique to their own culture that have helped develop their own societies as music brings people together for celebration, religious or spiritual ceremony, for meditation and even funerary gathering but what seems more evidently important for us as humans that we can use music as a way of communicating emotions and stories to each other with or without the use of language.

As written down in the Vedas of ancient India, Om is believed to be the primordial sound frequency of the universe we live in and is a sacred sound used in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.

(Source: The Unicode Consortium – Derivative work of Om symbol.svg, Public Domain, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54100842)

Om refers to Atman which is the soul or self within as well as Brahman that is consciously imagined as the entirety of the universe, an expression of truth and divine supreme spirit or consciousness with cosmic principles of knowledge.

Patterns in nature

The Helical vortex model of our planetary movements around the sun shows a pattern on a linear 2D diagram that resonates with that of sound sine waves and the shapes of the conch shell, which in itself is one of the ways the universe expresses the Fibonacci sequence of: 0, 1, 1+1=2, 1+2=3, 2+3=5, 3+5=8, 5+8=13 and so forth ad infinitum that gives us the Golden Ratio. Mathematics expressed in the universe which over thousands of years humans have discovered that reflect a divine creation blueprint of our universe which shows itself in the cosmic creation of conch shells, sunflower heads, snail shells, ammonites, pines cones & cacti. There are ties with the Fibonacci sequence in musical scales and harmonies.

(Artist :Alex Rainsford, Anu Design)

(Artist: Alex Rainsford, Anu Design)

(Artist :Alex Rainsford, Anu Design)

Could it be that over time our interest in music as a form of communication is not also to understand our own expression of emotion and to bring us together during times of celebration, religious ceremony and even during times of hardship from warring, plague, drought & famine but also to unite us continually throughout time to resonate and communicate with each other and the universe itself?

Even the atoms and molecules that make us are almost entirely made of sound, which in turn, is frequency and vibrations. In order to attune ourselves to a higher level of awareness then, we often rely on the vehicle of sound. Whether it be chanting, playing an instrument, or even our own breathing, sound inspires us and invites us to explore and express what is within.

Origins of Indonesian gamelan

Whereas Balinese Hinduism existed for many centuries in Indonesia where 83% of the population identify as Hindu and the rest of Indonesia is predominantly Muslim, Gamelan music predates the Hindu-Buddhistic culture & spiritual belief systems that spread from India throughout South-east Asia between 850 and 600 BCE. The traditional ensemble arrangement of Gamelan music originates from Indonesia which consist of 17,000 islands that include Java, Sumatra, Borneo (Kalimantan), Sulawesi, Papa New Guinea and Bali.

(Source: Addicted04 – https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8376146)

Gamelan ensemble music is created of an orchestra of instruments that comprise of hand-played drums, large bronze gongs, brass bells in varying sizes placed on meticulously carved wooden frames, brass plates also in scaled sizes on wooden frames that once created and tuned correctly to each other harmonise melodies that are very unique to Indonesia.

Sang Hyang Guru was a god king who ruled over Java from a palace on the Maendra mountain in Medang Kamulan, which in Javanese mythology is said that the instruments of gongs were created to summon the gods along with singing and shadow puppetry. To create complex messages of communication with the gods he created several differently tuned gongs which became the structure of Gamelan. The word itself, Gamelan, actually comes from the Javenese word ‘Gamel’ which is related the method of striking percussive instruments with a mallet and in Sudanese it is referred to as ‘Degung’. Degung is literally an ancient Sudanese word for gong and gong ensembles.

(Source: By fir0002flagstaffotos@gmail.com https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=445401)

My experience with Good Vibrations gamelan drop-in sessions

The first piece of Gamelan music I heard and loved was from the BARAKA soundtrack composed by Michael Stearns in a track entitled ‘Finale’ with the scene ‘Kecak’, whereby one of the most beautiful films made in human history shows a lady walking amongst rice paddies and then cuts to scenes of Cambodian temples of Angkor Wat, finalising in a spectacular recording of Balinese shamanic ritual chanting.

It was till years later after watching and loving the film BARAKA that I was introduced to Good Vibrations and Gamelan music sessions through a dear friend, Mike, which were hosted at Middle Street Resource Centre in Nottingham with lunchtime interactive classes led by Nikki.

Through going to Good Vibrations Gamelan sessions I became in much admiration and awe of the fantastic work of the Good Vibrations team, learning how you have implemented what could be classed as an ancient and tribal originating form of music creation and communication to help people around the UK in prisons and those working through mental health challenges.

As a musician I grew up first learning to play the violin at school which I quickly put down after a few years once I learnt more about classical music in the history of Europe and its links to a mentality of pomposity, class divide and wealth that has plagued and divided humans for too long. I moved onto the electric guitar as I grew up in my teens and was listening to albums by the Beatles, the Doors, Led Zeppelin, Camel, Pink Floyd, Van Halen, Rammstein & a plethora of many more 60’s / 70’s psychedelic rock’n’roll and later 80’s and onwards metal.

Many years later I’ve now found a much more appreciative love for the violin by putting to one-side classical music but learning how the instrument itself is crafted by hand using the divine proportions of the Golden Ratio.

(Artist: Alex Rainsford, Anu Design)

At that stage in my life it felt like I was resonating with that form of music as the artists would convey lots of emotions in their melodies and lyrics. Over many years as my music tastes changed I developed a love and appreciation of World music, especially calmer more relaxing meditative ambient and ethnic music from different parts of the globe that I became attracted to at the same time as I focussed more attention to follow Buddhism and Hinduism on a bodhisattva path, which have helped tremendously to overcome the mental health stresses and problems I faced 15 years ago.

During the interactive Gamelan sessions with Nikki we would learn about the culture of Indonesian music and how they also treat their instruments as sacred pieces of temple like art, and learn about the different interlocking melodies played.

Anyone who wishes to join the session can choose which piece of Gamelan instrument or combination of instruments they wish to sit with that day and learn about Gamelan melodies which are first taught with series of numbers but with a continual feedback reminder from Nikki that once we learn the pattern we should use our ears to learn the melody and not the numbers.

Once I got over that mental hurdle everything started to make more sense as we individually would be remembering our own melodies which can seem tricky to play to start off with but get easier quickly over time with muscle memory and really using our ears. Nikki creates a very calm, open & responsive presence in the space as a musician and teacher facilitator that allows for people to both learn interlocking patterns & melodies during part of the session & intermixed with time to spend on free expression & experimentation of communication with each other through melodies we have learnt previously and adding bits of melodies we can create on our own.

Different people come to each session sometimes and there can be regular faces that come and it’s always been a pleasure to see them again and then build on what we learnt from the last sessions, learning more and creating something different each time. Nikki has been very dedicated and kind to record the practices on a Zoom Dictaphone which saved as wave audio files she then can send out to us by email to listen back to later on in the week for positive reflection and remembrance of the peaceful atmosphere created that day that seems to linger with me afterwards for sometimes up to a week in my head.

I believe now I can attribute my re-ignited passion for music production on Ableton, which I had put to the wayside many years ago during a period of depression, gratefully to the Good Vibrations team and to Nikki for hosting these sessions. I’ve learnt how to be open and responsive to other people more again through playing melodies with each other and keeping in tempo with people in the room. One meditation pondering brought me to the awareness that part of my depression in the past may have been due to my disconnect with instruments.

Keeping in tempo with other performers in the Gamelan space is critical for the musical journey to be created smoothly without off-beat or disharmonious sounds.

We were asked in one of the weekly emails to check out a link Nikki shared on some gamelan performances that came with recordings of that weeks recordings and create something in response to send back be it a piece of music, poem, a painting or anything creative that has inspired us.

From one of the audio recordings sent out by Nikki I sampled short and long loops of different stages of a practice session, which I played around with adding reverb & creating some percussion beats that subtly started to create the idea of a story in my mind. I’d recently been learning to sing the Shurangama mantra in Sanskrit which is a devotional mantra in honour of Amitabha Buddha which once translated in the full text honours the various Buddha deities that also removes negative energy from the mind consciousness and physical reality when chanted & wardens off evil and is well known as a protection mantra. I added vocal recordings of the intro of the mantra along with my Omming recording that brought me to a place of serenity and helped to compose the track together into a piece that I wished to share back with Good Vibrations to share with everyone freely for anyone who enjoys it.

With the current situation being the way it is Nikki has been hosting gamelan sessions over zoom which have been fun to join in with and I can imagine that anyone who has been participating in the sessions in Beeston is also as keen as I am to be able to get back to being in the same room once again and play explore our musical communications with each other.

Sound vibration and music as a form of healing

Cat’s purr when they are content and in a state of happiness and bliss, but also when they are frightened and stressed. Their purr resonates between 25 and 140Hz which was shown in a study conducted by Fauna Communications showing that the Hz range covers the same frequencies that are therapeutic for bone growth, tissue healing, pain relief, reduction of swelling, the growth of muscle and repair, wound & joint healing and tendon repair. Their inhalation and exhalation while purring is literally a bio resonance healing mechanism using sound waves.

Pre-dating the bronze age Gong sound baths have been used for over 6,00 years around the world as a form of holistic therapy that is both mentally and physically healing, which vibrate at the 9 Solfeggio frequencies between 174 – 963Hz. It is an ancient, multi-dimensional form of sound healing whereby participants lay on matt’s in a large room or hall and varying sizes of small to huge gongs are used by a trained Sound Healer to create a field of vibrations that you literally feel as though you are bathed in sound frequencies.

People who come for these sacred sound healing meditations say that they receive and manifest experiences which oscillate between the intensely introspective and the extremely cosmic, working together in combination of the two while helping you shed that which does not serve you.

Much like Gongs, Tibetan singing bowls are an ancient sound healing tool said to have originated some 3,00 years ago possibly from Mesopotamia before reaching the high plateaus of the Himalayas where Tibet became renowned for their production. Trained Sound Healers maintain that sound therapy places listeners in a meditative state allowing them to de-stress, relax and heal which can be used an alternative treatment for anxiety, chronic pain, sleep disorders and PTSD.

What is evidently clear is that the Universe is full of wonder and amazement and that our powers of imagination are not limited in creating musical devices which are tools for personal or shared healing and to communicate thoughts and emotions to each other.

Thank you for reading, I wish that your journey of self healing is fruitful and enlightening.

Om Mani Padme Hum

Anu Koechli

Our 2019-20 annual report and accounts

Our 2019-20 annual report and accounts

We are delighted to share our 2019-20 annual report and accounts with you. Like everyone, we write this report looking back on the year from the depths of the Covid-19 pandemic. Current circumstances are so unusual for everyone that they make the normality of 2019/20 look very remote. However, this report peers back through the fog, to look at our last full year through the lens of normality.

In 2018 we developed our three-year strategy. 2019/20 was our first year of implementation. We decided on a vision of “a safer and more empathetic UK, where vulnerable people, including those convicted of offences, are given the chance to become valued members of society, and to forge fulfilling, constructive lives.” Our corresponding mission was: “to inspire vulnerable people with complex needs to see what they are capable of, to motivate them, and to give them the tools to build more positive futures.” And our strategy was: “to help 1,500 people per year by 2022; and secure the long-term future of our work through slightly more staff, and more diverse sources of income, including from corporates and philanthropists.”

How well did we do against the goals we set ourselves?

The most important aspect of our strategy was of course who we helped and how we helped them. And during the first year, we exceeded the goal we had set for helping people by 10%, reaching 868 participants. We also reached more people in more settings. Our community work in particular involved working with many more partners, especially in Glasgow, a thriving centre of excellence for our work. In the prison estate, we had decided on a shorter, more focused list of settings where we will work. Our focus is on existing partners, then on more category B/C training prisons, on the female estate, in young offender institutions, and in secure training centres. This paid off; we delivered in all these, and have strong relationships in many prison settings across Great Britain as a result.

I’m pleased to say our finances continued to grow in resilience in 2019/20, which turned out to be invaluable when the Covid-19 pandemic changed everything. We exceeded our income target for 2019/20, and we added not just our target £12,000 to unrestricted reserves, but nearly £22,000. We continued to diversify sources of income, including a 60% increase in individual giving. The one strategic source from which we raised no funds was corporate donations. This was despite a number of positive conversations. If anyone reading this report thinks they could connect us to a regular corporate donor, please do get in touch with Katy Haigh.

Our report for 2020/21 will look very different, because of Covid-19. We have been enormously grateful for the vision and flexibility of key funders, who have enabled us to diversify our activities and beneficiaries – even during lockdown. But of course the pandemic has given everyone a lot to think about. As a result we have recently undertaken a strategic review, which will soon result in an updated strategy. This review re-affirmed the central focus of our work and charitable objectives: using the power of collective music-making, creativity and teamwork, centering on the gamelan orchestra, to encourage and motivate people who feel disempowered because of the institutional settings they find themselves in and because of their previous life history. This power was very obvious during 2019/20 and we know it can return in a world recovering from the effects of Covid-19.

This pandemic has shone a sharp light on many themes we value as trustees and as a charity: the power of social connection; the unstoppable force of human creativity; the link between our mental health and our ability to live full and productive lives. We believe our mission to inspire people around these complex needs will be even more relevant in a world looking beyond (and back on) the current pandemic.

Jonathan Hollow, Chair of Good Vibrations’ Board of Trustees

16/12/2020