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Doing It All at Do Your Own Thing

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a group of young people with learning disabilities sing and play instruments together.
Photo from Heart n Soul

Creative community project, Do Your Own Thing, enables young people with learning disabilities and autistic young people to harness their boundless imagination.

Do Your Own Thing is a monthly Saturday programme supported by Youth Music’s Catalyser Fund. It's run by Heart n Soul, a creative community and arts charity based in South London.

Do Your Own Thing provides accessible music making opportunities for young people with learning disabilities and autism, some of whom have gone on to help facilitate the programme. Currently, the project has a network of 120 young people, with around 50 attending the monthly session.

By finding and backing innovative experts like this, Youth Music is ensuring more young people can make, learn, and earn in music - whatever their background or goal.   

Open to 10–25-year-olds, participants can explore a range of genres and musical skillsets. Everything from DJing to radio and podcasting, art, music jam sessions, and video is available to learn. The young creatives receive 1 to 1 sessions, artist development, studio time and the chance to create original music, including this mixtape of songs.

Meet the participants

One of Do Your Own Thing’s participants, Isaac, spoke proudly of his band, Too Hot For Candy, who have now been together for seven years. Through Do Your Own Thing, the band have released a five-track EP, ‘Candyland’, and are set to play a gig at The Great Escape Festival in Brighton this May.

William, another of Do Your Own Thing’s longstanding participants – who is now also a Heart n Soul facilitator – recalls feeling shy when he first attended the project 10 years ago. It only took two months until he found his rhythm, however. Drawn to the drum kit, he remembers how he, “Got all into it, freed up myself; got more crazy, danced about, played on different instruments, ran from room to room… It was like my own dream, basically. And there was no one telling me no, what not to do; don’t do that… And I enjoyed it. I really, really enjoyed it.”

“I learnt to socialise a lot and met new friends,” William adds. “I looked forward to going there. Back then when I was little, I had nothing else going on. It was just school and football and work. So, it [Do Your Own Thing] was like my fun day.”

William’s band Electric Fire - who met at Do Your Own Thing - went on to tour overseas, flying more than 6,000 miles to play three times in Hong Kong at i-d Arts’ conference on learning disability creativity.

With support from the Catalyser Fund, Heart n Soul have also been able to put on their own events and live exhibitions, including 'Squidz Club' (which saw over 200 attendees) and 'The House of DYOT' (over 400 attendees).

A caring and supportive community

Projects such as Do Your Own Thing are invaluable in helping young people to increase their skills, confidence, and independence, as well as encouraging them to feel part of a creative and caring community.

“The community feeling is really, really important,” Heart n Soul Young People Project Manager, Jenny Sutton, explains. “Quite often, a lot of people describe it as like a family.”

“Music session leaders like Ned and Richard and Ricky, they've been working at Do Your Own Thing for a long time, so there's a long history of everyone working together. It makes it feel very grounded and nice for new people to come into,” Jennie adds.

It’s because of this care and consistency that the young people who attend Do Your Own Thing feel comfortable to express themselves creatively.

Anything is possible

“Every door, every corner of the room there is something different going on,” William describes of the project.

Do Your Own Thing does exactly what it says on the tin, Jenny says. “Young people can come in and they can do exactly that. Our aim is to create the space with the equipment, with the expertise and people can come in and the idea is that we can support them to be expressive and create stuff. If you want to, you can make an album. You can write the song, you can record it, you can create the artwork, you can release it on the radio, do the whole process within one Do Your Own Thing!”

Youth Music’s Catalyser Fund is currently open for Expressions of Interest until Friday 26 May 2023. Find out more and apply here.