Along with lots of other youth workers, I've recognised that mentoring is a great way to support young people and invest in their personal development. Until about a year ago, I hadn't done any mentoring in schools. I imagined sitting in a boxy and barren room trying to squeeze awkward conversation out of a sulky teen. It didn't really appeal.
I wouldn't have enjoyed that when I was 14 either. But I loved doing anything creative; writing songs, building lego cities, endless doodling. I loved having a project to work on, and the feeling of accomplishment when it was finished.
Recently I turned our spare room into a kind of music studio and had some fun doing music production at home. It's one of those projects I love doing but hardly have any time for.
Last year I started playing with the thought of combining these two things - music production and mentoring in schools. Could I build a project around music making that would have the same personal development focus as 'traditional' mentoring?
The first hurdle was getting hold of some equipment. We didn't have a laptop capable of doing the high-powered stuff I wanted to. We put in a bid for funding that was declined. So the first plan I wrote was totally dependent on free music websites that could work on a decrepit laptop.
The curriculum was designed to link music learning with personal development. For instance, there is a Harmony session that talks about why music sounds good but also includes a discussion about resolving conflicts.
In January 2014 I piloted the first course with two lads in a secondary school. I learned a lot through the initial challenges, particularly as one of the boys barely spoke (it was four weeks before he said more than two words together). Several times one of the boys didn't turn up and I had to send for them. Some of the websites I wanted to use were blocked by the school's system.
Half way through that initial programme I saw a friend was selling his MacBook Pro on facebook. He offered a reasonable price, but I was still a little surprised when our trustees approved buying it for the project. I installed the software that I use for production at home (Ableton Live) and suddenly I was able to do exactly what I wanted.
The lads finished the mentoring course having produced a number of their own dance music tracks. It would be hard to measure the impact of the overall investment, but it was easy to see how much they enjoyed getting CDs of music they had made themselves.