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Tackling harassment with music - Knowle West Media Centre

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Hack a Heckle team posing with their hands to their mouths. Photo by Dean Ayotte for Knowles West Media Centre.

A team of young musicians, creatives and activists at a Youth Music project have developed an exciting social action campaign called ‘Hack A Heckle’ – using music to challenge gender-based harassment in Bristol and beyond.

The group, aged 18-25, formed through ‘Change Creators: The XLR Collective’, a project run by Knowle West Media Centre in Bristol which took place over nine months in 2017.

Change Creators is a creative leadership programme that supports young people to use the power of music, media, arts and technology to create social action projects in response to issues they care about, whilst developing confidence and wider transferable skills including leadership.

Addressing a big issue

2015 study revealed that 90% of British women report their first experience of harassment before the age of 17. The Hack A Heckle campaign aims to raise awareness of the problem – especially among young people – while encouraging everyone to take responsibility for their words and actions, and equipping people to safely challenge harassing behaviour.

After deciding that harassment and gender inequality were the issues they wanted to challenge, and agreeing on the name Hack A Heckle, the team set out by conducting a local survey, gathering stats and stories from people who’ve experienced or witnessed harassment.

The team campaigned online and around Bristol, working with partners such as Safe Gigs For Women, gender equality charity TIGER, and youth-led online platform Rife Magazine.

They’ve organised and performed at several live music events to raise awareness of their cause. And they’ve also recorded an amazing EP of original tracks based around the topic of harassment.

Hack A Heckle: ‘Hide’

Watch the band perform an original track in the studio. Video by Rife Magazine.

Music student Millie, one of the lead singers with the Hack A Heckle band, recalls how the group chose harassment and gender equality as the subject for their campaign:

“We had a session where we discussed different topics. We’ve all had personal experiences with harassment and being judged on our gender, so it was something that was important to all of us.

“I’ve enjoyed getting really hands-on with the activism part,” adds Millie.

"My summer was made ten times more interesting just for getting my teeth into this and being constantly busy, on the go, emailing people, performing, doing radio interviews, rehearsing, writing, campaigning.

I would have missed out on a whole lot of fun.

Hack a Heckle team campaining in Bristol. Photo by Dean Ayotte.

Combining music and media skills

The team worked with Knowle West Media Centre’s graphic designer to design their own Hack A Heckle branding, inspired by stencil-based political art. They also developed their own website and social media channels to reach new audiences online, which enabled bass player Will to expand his skill set.

“Since leaving university I hadn’t really had the opportunity to do anything worthwhile or interesting,” says Will. “I got really interested in web design and social media around the time that [the Change Creators: The XLR Collective] course was advertised, so I thought it would be a good chance to dive into that.

As the course went by I became the campaign leader. I ended up learning a lot about project management, organisation and leadership

Sharpening up on stage and in the studio

During their time on the Change Creators programme the band spent several hours a week rehearsing and composing songs together. Millie says: “It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been in a band, so that was a highlight – being creative with music again, and the writing and recording process.”

Live performances included a set at Bristol Harbour Festival to launch Hack A Heckle, and a takeover at the We The Curious science centre, where the team organised and promoted a whole day’s worth of live music.

Hack a Heckle t-shirt

Knowle West Media Centre Programme Manager (Young People) Mena Fombo witnessed the group’s progress:

“They joined as individuals, each with their own strengths, but learned to work collaboratively. Over the programme they found their sound, and took inspiration from connecting with wider musicians and record labels in the city.

"From their first single recording through to the completion of their EP it was amazing see how much the quality of their production grew, alongside their professionalism and live stage presence."

Plans for progression

Although the team graduated from the Change Creators programme in September 2017, Hack A Heckle continue to make an impact, including an invitation to perform at Bristol City Hall as part of an event marking International Women’s Day.

The team’s original research has now fed into a larger study in collaboration with the police force and the Bristol Zero Tolerance initiative. And with the help of one-to-one coaching through the Change Creators programme, the young people are thinking about the next stage in their creative careers.

Millie says: “From being long-term unemployed, I thought ‘why not do something creative with my time?’ The project has helped me develop my professional communication skills, which I didn’t really have before.

Millie on stage with the band. Photo by Jay Carter-Coles

“I want to become a music teacher. When Will was absent I took control of the creating and writing process for the music. That’s what I want to take forward from this – the confidence to lead people.”

Will, meanwhile, is planning to use his newly-honed skills and train for a career in web development. “The biggest thing I’ve learnt is how to manage my time,” he says.

“Without this course, I’d just still have a part time job and be doing the odd gig every now and again. It wouldn’t have given me all these ideas for what I want to do in the future.”

Youth Music would like to thank the young people and staff at Knowle West Media Centre for their help with this case study. A special thank you also goes to the National Lottery for the funding we receive each year through Arts Council England.