National music centre for SEND pupils unveiled

Plan for first Centre for Advanced Training for disabled musicians launched at House of Commons

Exciting plans for the first ever national Centre for Advanced Training for young musicians with Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND) are unveiled today at the House of Commons. The proposed centre is part of Bristol Music Trust’s ambitious £45 million transformation of Colston Hall.

The ambition could benefit an estimated 2,500 talented SEND musicians nationwide and set a new national benchmark for music accessibility. It’s backed by a wide range of music and disability rights organisations, as well as MPs including David Warburton, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Music.

If realised, the Centre would become the thirteenth Centre in the UK that provides specialist training for ambitious young musicians. None currently exist which are designed to accommodate people with SEND.

The future fully-accessible education and concert hall facilities will exceed anything previously built -in the UK. Three cutting edge performance areas and learning spaces will be adaptable to the widest range of needs and a state of the arts technology lab will raise the bar for national standards in accessibility.

Louise Mitchell, Chief Executive of Bristol Music Trust, said: “Bristol continues to build a national reputation as a city where disabled people can achieve their music potential and where we confront perceptions about disability. The British Paraorchestra recently based itself in Bristol. In July 2015, we held Fast Forward Festival – the UK’s first major disability music festival – and challenged attitudes to disability in the music industry on a scale previously unseen in the UK.

“With investment from the National Foundation for Youth Music, we’ve created a three year ‘New Ambition for Inclusive Excellence’ programme. Alongside expert partners, like OpenUp Music and the One-Handed Musical Instrument Trust, we’re already transforming the way SEND music education is delivered.

“Our multi-million pound Hall transformation offers the opportunity for the South West to take the next step. We can shape the future about how young musicians with SEND are trained to play and perform. One of our aims is to challenge the national perception of SEND music and create a national profile like that achieved in Paralympic sport.”

Bristol Music Trust must first finish raising the investment for the transformation. Bristol City Council, the Government and Arts Council England have allocated £25 million between them. The Trust is now seeking more sources of funding, including trusts and foundations, companies and private donors, to reach the £45 million target.

Thangam Debbonaire MP, Labour Shadow Culture Spokesperson and whose constituency includes Bristol’s Colston Hall, is one of four Bristol MPs hosting the launch. She said: “Bristol is a wonderfully diverse and cultural city. It would be the perfect place in the country for a Centre for Advanced Training for SEND. The nation should benefit from the expertise in SEND music education based at the Hall. In turn, I expect this would drive up standards and create more opportunities for young disabled people to achieve qualifications and pursue a career in music.”

During the event, a musical performance will take place by a young musician with SEND. Ashleigh Turley is 12 years old and an example of a young gifted musician who would benefit from the Centre for Advanced Training.

Ashleigh was born at 24 weeks and required high levels of oxygen, which left her blind. Music plays a significant part in Ashleigh’s life. From two years old she played recognisable music on her musical toys and would pick up songs very quickly. She started piano lessons from the age of four. Her parents found the biggest problem was finding a teacher who would see her musical ability first and not her disability.

Her ability was nurtured at Milestone School, Gloucester. Professor Adam Ockelford at Roehampton University assessed her and agreed to tutor her. As a member of the South West Open Youth Orchestra, Ashleigh has the opportunity to perform concerns in Bristol and continue to perform at Gloucester Cathedral.

Besides piano, she also takes lessons on the saxophone, guitar and organ. She has perfect pitch and learns everything by ear and can improvise music effortlessly. Her parents’ ambition is for her to enjoy her love of music. One day, Ashleigh hopes to become famous.

The Colston Hall Centre for Advanced Training would provide the expertise, facilities and learning needed for Ashleigh, and others with SEND, with the opportunity to fulfil their potential.

We’ll be at the launch later today at the House of Commons – follow us on Twitter for more on this story!

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