“I was so scared, wasn’t seeing anybody, [this has] given me such confidence. I remembered I always wanted to be a writer and now I’m starting…. ”
This is Lynda, describing her experiences working with Open Harmony, a CIC that helps at-risk adults across Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin through music-based programming.
Open Harmony has been a member of the VCSA since it started in 2019. But 2019 now seems a lifetime ago. Open Harmony’s Founding Director, Laura Atyeo, says that interest in their services has grown substantially since the start of the pandemic.
“We reach adults (usually 35+) who ‘fall through the cracks’ in the system – have low-level mental health or social care issues that are not yet in crisis/requiring specialist intervention but, due to their circumstances – financial insecurity, unemployment, social isolation – are at risk of doing so. Usually, they are not eligible for any other support” says Laura.
Open Harmony works with adults who have chronic mental or physical health conditions, are unemployed, or suffer from isolation. Activities offered as part of therapy by Open Harmony are free at the point of use to members. These include jamming/singing groups, song and music composition, storytelling, improvisation and much more. Services are usually tailored to the needs and interests of the individual members and 1:1 holistic support is offered too.
Many of the key benefits to members comes from the peer-supported community that has been built up and nurtured since lockdown. This gives a sense of belonging, friendship and peer-to-peer coaching and support – members see themselves as a team that wants to create a legacy.
Laura herself has twenty years of experience in the healthcare field and is a lifelong musician as well. She says that she founded Open Harmony as a means of transforming her own feelings of disempowerment, frustration, and stress by embracing her creative talents and using them to give back to others.
“Music is transcendent, and the means/vehicle for positive change. We are experts at creating a positive, safe space enabling everyone present to express themselves and be their genuine selves” she explains.
And it works. Laura notes that since its inception 42% of Open Harmony’s members have gone into education or training, 29% have started their own independent creative projects (e.g., producing their own music), 16% have started paid or self-employment, and 16% are now giving back by volunteering with Open Harmony – either through supporting other members in sessions, or by serving on their steering committee. Two members have even gone on to start and build their own Social Enterprise.
These results make Open Harmony a valued member of Shropshire social prescribing. Tom Stickley, Shropshire Mental Health Social Work Team, said: “We’ve been looking for years, no other services do this for these groups of people.” Additionally, Katy Warren, Shropshire Social Prescribing lead notes: “There’s nothing that would fill the gap if Open Harmony disappeared.”
The VCSA is proud to count Open Harmony among its members. If you would like to learn more or to partner with Open Harmony, feel free to check out their website, or reach out to Laura Atyeo, Founding Director, via email or telephone on 07753 381908.