Howdenhall Project Report

Here’s part of a report on our project at Howdenhall from their resident music specialist Gavin Wiltshire. It has been absolutely fantastic to work with him on this project. Thanks  to the YMI for making the connection and funding the work.

Tinderbox members from a plethora of disciplines worked alongside Howdenhall’s resident music / music technology specialist to deliver a programme of intensive, engaging, challenging and interactive music workshops. Steered entirely by the young people – participants took ownership of their project, being immersed in the creative environment – networking with and instructing professionals, communicating ‘at their level’ and expressing themselves whilst gaining core skills in the music performance, composition, music technology and music production – to create a product that was tangibly their own.

Why did we do it?

Each young person is present at the school because A) they or their families are a risk to themselves or to others B) they have been intercepted on a trajectory of criminality and C) the criminal justice system is waiting for the young person to reach the age where they could be trialed as an adult and then sent to prison for their respective offence(s).

The young people attending the school at any given point are often some the most at risk members of society, with the cost to shelter, educate and care for the highly bespoke needs of each young person, per year – running into several hundred thousand pounds.

In the very nature of the school, it is negative circumstances that have led the young people to be where they are, but stakeholders from all areas of life – Police, social work, family support units, the NHS and beyond who all have a vested interest in seeing positive outcomes from these young people, and as such – the potential impact of a programme such as this – a tactical deployment of musicians at the top of their game – punches far beyond its weight in terms of reach, value money, and future impact on society.

How did it go?

The impact of the project was broad and deep, and is best measured against the specific situation of each participant, case studies below:

Young person (A) suffers from profound mental health issues, frequently self harms and struggles to engage in most classes – often storming out of classes and needing restrained. Young person (A) did not want to engage in music making per say, but instead interview each of the visiting musicians, asking them questions about their life – and combined with recordings of them playing their instrument, created a sound collage. Young person (A) also photographed the instruments / performers for her use in the art class and really enjoyed having new material to work with. I was hugely impressed at the positive attitude young person (A) displayed in every session, asking relevant questions and showing a genuine interest, not having to leave the classroom even once – showing real confidence and comfort in the environment, when in the past adapting to new situations and people has proven difficult.


Young person (B) has complex learning difficulties and suffers from ADHD. He struggles to focus and contain his energy and is obsessed with his iPad. Young person (B) took to the project like a duck to water, immediately adopting the dual roles of producer / engineer – calling the shots and communicating his ideas to the musicians clearly, and with passion – whilst handling all of the technical processes, setting up the microphones and operating the recording software. Young person (B) became visibly more relaxed and was delighted at the end result – an orchestral reinterpretation of his favourite video game soundtrack.

Going far beyond music – Tinderbox engaged and integrated into the critical STEM (Science, Technologies, English and Maths) classes with workshops on hardware synthesis, circuitry and game sound design – demonstrating the application of music based skills in the non musical environment.

The project proved not only therapeutic to the individual, but fostered communication and interpersonal skills, stimulated a broad range of conversations, empowered the participants to speak up and speak out – gave confidence and showed the young people involved a few different outlooks on life, with new faces and other ways of thinking. Cumulatively the overall trajectory of the lives of the young people involved has been downwards, that is why they are at the facility. Although it is impossible to know whether had these young people been exposed music and the arts at an earlier age, if their situation would be different, but we believe we have had a positive impact on this trajectory, and have been there for the bounce.