FOR the last seven years, and thanks to a joint venture between the Music Pool and ECHO (Extra Choices in Herefordshire), Yam Jams has grown to welcome more than 100 people with a wide range of disabilities and their carers, to the regular music-making clubs every Tuesday and Friday morning.
Led by poet, hip hop maestro and rapper Mark ‘Lofty’ Loughman, with support from his daughter Zoe and DJ Rich Adey, Yam Jam sessions are nothing if not energetic: everyone can join in and they do - whether making up raps, playing in a percussion orchestra, singing African chants or learning hip hop moves and grooves. But above all, they are a social occasion and both the clients and their carers come along to meet up with friends and have some fun.
“Yam Jams works because people can join in at whatever level they want to and Lofty and his fellow musicians have that unique ability to make everyone feel special, says Maggie Percy, operations manager of ECHO.
Lofty, though, gives credit to The Music Pool commenting that: “Without the vision of Rob (Strawson) and Dennis (Schiavon) who saw that this would work, I wouldn’t now be involved in community arts." And the benefit for the users and for the community goes well beyond the actual time spent at the Yam Jams sessions: “A number of carers have told me how much more confident their clients are after coming to Yam Jams, so the benefit is not just in those two hour,” says Lofty. “We pitch the sessions for the carers as well, so that they want to come back, so everyone benefits and they structure their week around the sessions.”
Lofty points to a young man, known as DJ, who gained so much from participating in Yam Jams that it had a positive knock-on effect on his whole family. And another client with severe disabilities, who goes by the nickname ‘MC Potential’, has gone from strength to strength and performed with Livewire. “The benefit of that goes both ways, because the able-bodied musicians learn a lot from that, too,” says Lofty. “And they realize that there’s a person behind the disability. The music is just the carriage, a means to an end, but it’s what brings everyone together.” And Yam Jams clubs also provide opportunities for pupils from Barrs Court School who help out at sessions for work experience, providing them with the opportunity to develop social skills and prepare for life after school.
“Yam Jams would not work without the wonderful musicians provided by The Music Pool," says Maggie, "but it also would not work without the committed teams of volunteers who are recruited and trained by ECHO and turn up each week to ensure the clubs run smoothly, setting up the halls, taking the registers, collecting the money and, most importantly of all, serving up numerous cups of tea and coffee at break time. A number of the volunteers have a learning or physical disability themselves and so Yam Jams provides an excellent opportunity for them to develop work-based skills, as well as confidence and self-esteem.”
Yam Jam sessions are not free but the cost is subsidizsed by The Music Pool. Thousands of people have benefited from Yam Jams and The Music Pool's work across a wide range of inspirational services over the last 25 years.
But with funding increasingly tight, The Music Pool has launched the Splash! Appeal to help generate the funds to ensure that this vital work can continue into the future. For more information or to make a donation, please visit musicpool.org.uk and click on the ‘donate’ button.