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Power of music to help people with mental health in new project

Credit: Vale of Glamorgan Council

The Vale of Glamorgan Council is using the healing power of music to help people with their mental health.

In partnership with a range of other individuals and agencies, the Authority’s Community Mental Health Support Team has brought together three of the people they work with to form a band.

The group, who all suffer with issues affecting their confidence in social settings, recently played their first live gig at an awards ceremony for Vale Madrid, a football team created to help others with mental health struggles.

Anthony Jones plays electric guitar, Ray Maylin is on acoustic guitar, while Max Brookes provides lead vocals.

They are joined on stage by Mike Fulthorpe, who works for Breathe Creative CIC, a company that promotes mental health and wellbeing through activities linked to music, art, drama and writing.

The gig took place in Bar 96 on High Street in Barry, owned by James Bagnal, another who has assisted with the project by letting the band, who have still to decide on a name, use his space for free.

Their set list consisted of half a dozen indie tracks from the 90s covering bands such as Radiohead, Pearl Jam, REM and the Cranberries.

Dave McDonald has also supported the project, lending his expertise and the Cardiff Evolution Studio he owns without charge, to help the band record a single ‘Hope’.

He is also offering Max a volunteering opportunity, allowing him to gain experience in the world of music and media.

“This has helped me so much with my confidence,” said Max.

“I’ve always liked writing music, but it’s always been behind closed doors. Since I’ve joined this group, I’ve been a lot more open with singing in front of people. My girlfriend has heard a lot more from me and my mum’s heard a lot more from me.

“Performing live was a big step – I’ve never done that before. Now I’ve done it, I know I can potentially go out and do it in other places.

“Going to the studio, I’ve met Dave and he’s arranged for me to volunteer and help out with a few bits he’s doing there.

“This project has helped me progress by opening a lot of doors that I didn’t know were there. Before I started this music group, I was very closed off. This has opened me up a lot more.

“Anything that’s to do with music that I can turn into a career, I’m running with it. That’s my plan.

“The reason I’m with the Mental Health Team in the first place is that I find it so hard to dedicate myself to things that are a struggle and difficult because I’ve got all these anxieties and fears.

“I panic, say ‘no, I can’t’ and then just shut off.

“Coming to play the gig, I was anxious, but as soon as we start playing, I just zoned out and was okay again.

“If the band stops here, it’s fine, but I would like to continue as a group and maybe bring more people in.

“It would be great to have more people sharing their musical experiences and their feelings because music is great therapy – it’s a good way of expressing your emotions.”

Council Community Support Worker Geri Goddard has been one of the driving forces behind the project.

Managed by Gareth Newberry, the team supports individuals living in the Vale who have been referred for support with their mental health recovery.

They work alongside Vale Locality Mental Health colleagues, an integrated group of health workers, Local Authority staff, nurses, doctors, social workers and psychologists.

“When we started, we collected the guys and brought them to a practice room and nobody spoke, everyone had their heads down,” said Geri.

“Then Mike from Breathe Creative talked about house rules, a bit about confidentiality and then we all shared some of our personal experiences and got a feel for each other. We all understood and respected each other.

“At the start Max would sit there in the corner with his hood up, there was no eye contact and he certainly wouldn’t sing. Then week after week, you just saw it grow. You saw the confidence develop.

“Max’s mum would text me when he got home and say ‘what have you done with him? He woke up this morning so depressed and now he’s as happy as he’s been in a long time.’

“It’s the same with Ray. He really wanted to come as did Anthony. It was just a safe space for everyone to be in and be creative. I’ve definitely seen a big difference in all of them.

“Music is such a massive thing in people’s lives whether they’re happy, sad, down or up. It’s something you can go to.

“People remember where they were when they heard a particular song. It can transport you from a down day to a better place, to a particular happy time in your life if it’s a song that you love.”


On the day of the band’s debut show, Vale Madrid were celebrating a league championship.

As well as competing in the Vale of Glamorgan Senior League, Vale Madrid also play against other teams with mental health problems from around Wales and ended that series of games top of the table.

The success achieved in these two very different activities demonstrates the scope of work taking place to help people overcome such difficulties in the Vale.

“We were asked if we wanted to get involved musically because none of us are into more traditional art therapy. I can’t hold a paintbrush, let alone paint,” said Anthony.

“It was just an idea put forward by some of our support workers. I think they found funding for it to go ahead on a trial basis and it’s been very successful.

“I had piano lessons as a kid, sang in choirs and have been in other bands over the years. I also produce trance music at home at the moment.

“I suffer from severe social anxiety and for the first few sessions I went along I wasn’t comfortable. It made me quite unwell for a day or two afterwards.

“But over the last 12 weeks, it’s become something I can go to and feel relaxed. It’s helped me massively in terms of just getting out and being around people I don’t know that well.”

Made possible through funding from The Arts Council of Wales, the National Lottery, support from key individuals and organised by Breathe Creative, the aim now is to build on the partnership and expand the programme.

That will involve securing more funding, a challenge Council staff are already embracing.

There has also been talk of opening up Bar 96 as a mental health space offering ‘coffee and jam’ sessions.

“For me, it’s just amazing that the band have found something they can really feel they’re valued in,” said Linda Woodley, Council Operational Manager for Adult Services.

“The team have tapped into people’s strengths to really help them grow and develop. They’ve improved their mental health while having a good time.

“We really want to keep that going. We will have to look for funding but given the outcomes we’ve seen and the positive change to people, I really hope that will be forthcoming.

“I’ve spoken to the band members and heard compliments that have come in from parents. They’ve said that the change they’ve witnessed during the time this group has been going has been greater than they’ve seen in years. They are so grateful for it.

“This is a great advert for how collaborative working can be successful. I think sometimes the small things help really big things grow. It is wonderful that this community partnerships with Bar 96 has developed along with the strong links that have been forged with Breathe Creative.

“Times are difficult in terms of sourcing resources and money, but I think if this stops people becoming unwell and needing more intensive support, it ties in with everything we should be doing under the Social Services Wellbeing Act and Welsh Government principles – giving people the help they need early on so they don’t need more intense support later.

“If you think of the football players – they have all been out playing sport, keeping active, helping their wellbeing.

“If that wasn’t there the risk is that they become more socially isolated and their mental health deteriorates. These initiatives are vital in helping people stay well in their communities.”

As the Council’s budget-setting process continues against the challenging backdrop of rising costs and decreasing funding, protecting the most vulnerable members of the community remains an absolute priority.

The Authority has made it clear that everything possible will be done to maintain the services relied upon by those residents in the greatest need.

“This is giving people hope, belief in themselves that they can do something with their lives,” added Max.

“It has proved to me that there are people who care, people who are trying to help.

“Seeing that has given me a new spark and more faith in the world because, before, that’s what I was really struggling with.”