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Making music and breaking barriers with Mirren Paton and the Salford Foyer

Mirren Customer Story

Living Plus Colleague, Mirren Paton, shares the success of Salford Foyer’s music project, helping young Customers to break down social barriers and learn new skills. 

Places for People works with Customers from across the UK, with a wide diversity of backgrounds, circumstances, and opinions. Nowhere is this more evident than Living Plus, our specialist supported living provider, thanks to Colleagues who work tirelessly to help Customers thrive. However, even amongst the most diverse groups, shared passions can help bring people together—none more so than music. 

The Salford Foyer is a Living Plus facility in Greater Manchester that provides accommodation for homeless young people between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five. As well as supporting Customers with essential services and development of practical skills, colleagues like Mirren run projects that allow Customers to express themselves and break down social barriers. In January, the Foyer hosted a musical showcase where Customers could perform and share music that they had written and mixed following a twelve-week project with the help of a professional singer-songwriter.

A positive outlet

“Everyone loves music, don’t they?” Mirren began, “it might not all be the same type of music but it’s a good way to bring people together.”  

Over the twelve weeks of the project, customers worked with facilitators to mix beats, write lyrics, and record and edit their tracks. This culminated in a showcase at the Foyer, where Customers could play their tracks or even perform live for one another and their guests. 

“It gave them an outlet, they were writing about things that they might not usually talk about,” Mirren explained, “it allowed them to just get out of their heads.” 

The Customers involved were all young people who had been through difficult circumstances, and so for support workers like Mirren, it is important they have a positive outlet to express their feelings. 

“Previously we’ve had anti-social behaviour so it was good for them to be able to let their frustration out positively, you know. Like the next time you want to pull your door off its hinges, maybe just go to the music room and do your thing instead?”

Building connections 

The Salford Foyer also accommodates Customers from a diversity of backgrounds, including young unaccompanied asylum seekers (UAS), who also took part in the project. Mirren goes on: “It was a way for people to get to know each other, talk to people they wouldn’t normally talk to, and it was a good way to break down prejudices too.”

During the project, Customers were encouraged to share music that they enjoyed, with some UAS Customers playing music from their home countries, as a way to share part of their culture. 

“Some of them, their English was not as good” said Mirren, “so we asked them to share some music they would have listened to at home, and it was a good way to learn more about them and their culture even though they might not speak our language.” 

“It also helped people find a mutual liking for things, like they’re all a similar age, they all like that Drill music, but there was a funny moment where it turned out one of the girls who is usually really quiet also loved Drill, which no one would have expected. It helped people to connect.”

Mirren recalls one Customer using the project as an opportunity to develop her English, choosing to write a song in English despite speaking very little of the language. “I can’t even imagine how hard that was to do” she said, “to write a whole song in a language you barely speak. I don’t think I could write a song in English and that’s my native language, never mind writing it in a foreign language!” 

Life skills 

The project also helped Customers to develop life skills in looking after the equipment, which is available to use in the Foyer as they please, as Mirren explains. 

"We’re teaching them skills like responsibility, like the equipment is there for them to use but if it gets broken or lost then its them who are missing out!” 

For Mirren, the main benefit of the project was simply seeing Customers enjoying themselves. “These are vulnerable kids who are forced to grow up quickly and fend for themselves,” she revealed, “it’s so important that they find a passion and it was amazing that they could show me something that had worked hard on, that they were proud of…it sounds dramatic but it’s such a big thing for them to have the choice of what style of music to record, what lyrics to write, how to perform. That’s a big deal for young people who haven’t had much choice up to now.” 

Mirren added how the project was full of pleasant surprises. “A lot of the Customers were really talented, but we’d never have known without this project because you’re not going to hear people sing on a normal day…”

“It also helps us work with them; if we know someone has a dream, say they want to be a singer or a rapper, we can help find a way to support them and a way to connect with them that they will appreciate more.”

Mirren hopes that the project will run again at the Foyer, allowing a new cohort of Customers to realise the benefits of music. The recording equipment, provided by Touchstone, is still available there for Customers to use as they please, but Mirren and her colleagues are currently seeking funding to hire musical facilitators once more and to turn the project into a more regular feature.

She said: “We have a high turnover of Customers here so we want to be able to offer the opportunity to as many of them as possible. It would be a shame for someone to miss out just because they joined us too late!”

We are proud of People like Mirren who help Customers within our Communities to thrive, regardless of their circumstances!

Read more heart-warming stories from our Customers and People

We hope you found this story inspirational. If you would like to read more stories from around the Places for People organisation, check out more of our In My Own Words stories.  

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