Rio Challenge Fund

Transform:ED (2017-19)

In 2017, SoundStorm successfully applied for Challenge Fund funding from our Arts Council Bridge Organisation, Real Ideas Organisation (RIO), after a competitive application process.

The Transform:ED project which followed aimed to use cultural education and social enterprise as a means to reintegrate some of the most disadvantaged / isolated /NEET (not in education, employment and training) young people back into education and/or training, at the same time improving their health and wellbeing. For every £1 of investment we raised for the project from previously untapped sources, the Challenge Fund matched this with its own investment. Ultimately, £52k was raised from RIO and other sources, including Bournemouth Integrated Youth Service, Absolute Music Trust, Tregonwell Academy and others. The project ended July 2019, though its legacy continues.



We secured a music leader with just the right skills base – and attitude – to make the project a success. Jamie King has himself been a youth worker, as well as continuing his career as a skilled music producer, composer and sound engineer. Our Youth Service partners provided support workers to assist Jamie in recruiting young people for the project, and managing behaviour, once the projects began.

As well as Jamie, 5 professional musicians worked on the project at various times, as well as SoundStorm staff, and other practitioners/teachers.



With the foundations in place relatively early on, the hardest part was initially recruiting young people themselves. Our application envisaged 4 separate cohorts of 6-8 of the most disadvantaged and challenging young people across our conurbation. These were young people who had dropped out of the mainstream education system, been excluded or were at risk of being so. The plan was that they would do an intense period of activity centered around music composition – complemented with transferable skills potentially useful for future education or training purposes – progressing on into some form of follow on activity, and thus back into a pathway of progression/education. Our rather ambitious target was to get (50%) progressing from the programme into more sustained activities. The routes envisaged could include attending an FE course, or related internships or apprenticeships. Or with positive outcomes back in the school system.

The model evolved as the project developed. The first cohort did an intensive 10 session “residency” over a week. For some later cohorts, a weekly session worked better; various models were trialled. We also developed a weekly, open drop in session to ensure there was a progression route for attendees who wanted to continue with their activity.



We easily surpassed our target of working with 24-32 students. A total of 53 young people ultimately attended 5 cohorts of RIO music making sessions. 33 male, 8 female, 2 transitioning. Age ranges 14-19 years with one 24 years SEN.




There was significant development of the musical skillbase for all young participants. For some this developed from a very low skill base. All participated in composition, playing and recording music as part of this project.

22 pieces of music were created across all sessions:

Cohort 1: 4 tracks

Cohort 2: 2 tracks

Cohort 3: 2 tracks

Cohort 4: 3 tracks

Cohort 5: 11 tracks

53 young people from a variety of disadvantaged backgrounds were engaged in regular professional music composition for the first time. 76 specialist music sessions were delivered. Plus 12 recording sessions and 12 post production sessions.

You can hear some of the amazing music produced on the SoundStorm SoundCloud page



The project had a significant impact on the majority of participants, be it giving them a direct route into formal education, developing new interests or impacting upon their general wellbeing.

9 young people (17%) used the project as a platform back into formal education / accreditation.

21 (40%) are continuing an interest in producing/ playing music, formally or informally.

36 (68%) indicated an improvement in their general wellbeing, or self-esteem, as a result of the project.


  1. All the partner organisations developed a far greater understanding of how best to engage and keep engaged young people in challenging circumstances. For SoundStorm, this gave us much greater insight into how to develop a truly inclusive offer with these specialist groups that will inform future thinking; as well as how to best engage young people with multiple issues. New methodologies were developed as part of this project that will inform future projects.
  2. All the partner organisations have a better understanding of the obstacles and barriers that stand in the way of young people engaging with inclusive music projects, particularly in certain age ranges
  3. All the partner organisations (and some other organisations outside of the partnership) have pledged to put into place progression routes that will provide a more consistent musical progression pathway for disadvantaged young people. This will be subject to a Youth Music bid moving forwards.
  4. The project challenged us to explore new genres of music (suggested by the young people) that have not been part of our offer previously.

1 music leader, 5 professional musicians, 2 support workers and 1 youth mentor have worked with the young people; plus 2 SoundStorm staff members.


The project took disruptive young people out of schools; and NEET young people off the streets. A significant proportion indicated it had had a positive impact upon their wellbeing and outlook moving forward.

The project engaged the 53 young people for a combined total of 1272 hours; as a minimum, we can say that we prevented antisocial behaviour for that period of time by giving them focus and challenges.


The project was useful for SoundStorm in helping us reengage with Tregonwell Academy, a special school for EBD young people in Bournemouth. Through the project, Tregonwell rejoined our SoundStorm membership scheme for the first time for 3 years, with the outcome being that many more young people excluded from mainstream schools will be accessing a wide range of musical inputs next year, through our core music education hub provision.

The project evolved in ways different to that originally envisaged. Eg. The final cohort developed a gaming music specialism. Some of their tracks will appear on new prototype video games designed by Bournemouth University Students, in a new relationship which developed from this project.

More “soft” outcomes were achieved than originally envisaged (eg. improvements in self-esteem, confidence, social interaction etc). Hard outcomes in terms of movement into formal progression routes were conversely fewer than our original ambitious 50% target.

The sessions provided a haven and respite space for vulnerable young people we had not originally envisaged working with. Eg. young people transitioning.

Our professional musicians developed new skills and satisfaction levels from this work we had not anticipated. One described it as “the most rewarding project he had ever been involved in” and has gone on to develop his professional practice in this area.

The work will be continuing beyond the lifetime of this project, thanks to a new relationship developing with the Absolute Music Trust, the charitable arm of Absolute Music.



NEET young people are difficult to recruit for these projects. But once they are recruited, the impact on their lives can be very positive. By joining together the various providers doing good work across a range of fields, a more joined up approach has emerged out of this project amongst a range of providers.

The project shows how the educational experience – and focus – of young people can be transformed by taking them out of the traditional education setting and putting them into a setting that will engage them. Behavioural patterns have been transformed, new approaches to literacy and creativity have borne fruit, for many of these young people it has been the first educational experience they have enjoyed for a long time.


  • Young people from certain backgrounds are not necessarily keen on particular types of formal accreditation. It is seen as not hip.
  • Be prepared to evolve your project to best suit the needs of the young people you are working with
  • A “record label” nowadays is not the traditional old school physical product producing entity some of us older project managers originally envisaged. The whole music industry landscape has changed and for some young people, giving them the space to get on and record stuff is enough. They will then sort the rest.
  • Be prepared for challenging language and themes in the products created. A number of the tracks were “parental advisory”.


CA attended the first of the RIO session when she was on the NEET register. She did have an interest in music but was facing some difficult challenges in her private life which meant she wasn’t considering college as an option. Having attended the RIO session and having really got a lot from them she looked at sixth form and Bournemouth Academy of Modern Music (BAMM) as a serious option. She opted for BAMM and she has now nearly successfully completed a Level 3 in performance and is applying to University. She wants to study creative arts but is still unsure exactly what she wants to do in the future. She says she is the happiest she has been and being engaged in music through the RIO project is the best choice she could have made.

J was enlisted as a peer mentor to work with cohort 2. At the time he was a young man who had been groomed by a gang and had become involved in the distribution of drugs. Like many others he saw this as a way out from poverty. He stepped up to the challenge of helping younger teenagers who were likely to go down a similar path. He used his musical talents and got so much from the experience. He was a positive role model and proved to be a very kind, patient and supportive mentor. He said he can now see a different path and future for himself.

Watch a short film about cohort 2 and 3 of the project here:

If you would like to know more, please email us at

Many thanks to all our workers and partners on this project, particularly Jamie King (Absolute Music Trust), Alan Barclay (Absolute Music Solutions), Geraint Griffiths (Bournemouth Council Youth Service), Laura Woodger (RIO), Deshni Pyndiah (RIO).


Phone + 01202 123012
Email +
c/o Absolute Music
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855 Ringwood Road
Bournemouth, Dorset
BH11 8NE


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