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Pioneering music service hailed as an “national treasure”


May 22, 2024 - 372 views

A royal composer has hailed a pioneering music service that teaches 5,000 children every week in Wrexham and Denbighshire as a “national treasure”.

According to patron Professor Paul Mealor, the spectacular success of the North Wales Music Cooperative is all the more remarkable because it was formed nine years ago in the aftermath of a financial crisis that saw funding for peripatetic music teachers being axed.

Prof Mealor, the new artistic director of the North Wales International Music Festival in St Asaph who was appointed by the King as a Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order after writing music for the Coronation, was speaking during a special celebration at the award-winning cooperative.

The organisation, which runs two sister coops in Denbighshire and Wrexham, has now been able to buy its base in Denbigh thanks to grants from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, via Denbighshire Voluntary Services Council, and other partners.

They work with pupils from more than 100 primary schools and 18 high schools in the two counties while providing work for 70 freelance music tutors who are also members of the cooperative.

The celebrations will continue at two concerts featuring young musicians from Denbighshire and Wrexham, the first at Ysgol Glan Clwyd in St Asaph on Monday, July 1, and the second at the Stiwt theatre in Rhos on Monday, July 15.

Prof Mealor, who first won worldwide acclaim after he composed the motet Ubi caritas, sung at the Westminster Abbey Royal wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, believes that buying the building is a huge step forward.

He said: “Before this organisation was formed, we were at a precipice where music could have died in schools for children from my background. Only the very rich could have afforded it but this group particularly has made sure that that isn’t the case and that’s benefited so many children and young people in North Wales.

“But we couldn’t do it without everybody who’s funding us from the councils in Wrexham and Denbighshire, Welsh Government, and Levelling Up money from the UK Government.

“Music opens up a world to people that they wouldn’t have known about, a world that’ll live with them for the rest of their lives and I’m incredibly proud to be the patron of this wonderful organisation that is now a real national treasure.”

The cooperative was founded in Denbighshire nine years ago by Head of Service Heather Powell who was one of the music tutors made redundant due to the budget cuts and subsequently it expanded into Wrexham in 2018.

When the pandemic struck, the organisation revamped the service “pushed the boundaries of technology” to provide online lessons and as a result was honoured at the prestigious Social Business Wales Awards.

Heather Powell said: “Thanks to levelling up monies and support from Denbighshire Voluntary Services Council, we now own the building, which is fantastic.

“This is a huge step in the evolution and growth of the organisation. It gives us sustainability and strength because now we own the building, we’re able to do a lot more with it.

“We’ve got all the community groups, choirs, ensembles, things like that accessing the building, and we’ve also got 70 members now who use the building for rehearsals, a harp group, a percussion ensemble and various children’s ensembles here as well so there’s a buzz here. There’s always something going on.

“We cover every school in Denbighshire and every school in Wrexham where we run lessons and whole class activities, ensembles, choirs, orchestras, bands, so on an average week, probably 5,000 people access the service.

“Music is incredibly important for wellbeing and we work to make sure that every child who has an interest in some way or another can access our service.

“It’s also a scientific fact that music improves literacy, numeracy, language skills. It’s all part and parcel. The new curriculum in Wales is steeped in music.

She added: “We are very lucky to have Paul as our patron because he’s a great talent who needs to be celebrated in Wales. We’ve got a lot of young composers in our music cooperative who can look up to people like Paul and learn a lot from what he’s done and what he’s achieved. He’s a real inspiration.”

According to the cooperative’s Chair, Cllr Mark Young, buying the building meant the organisation was well placed to continue to grow and expand the service in other areas.

He said: “This provides a launchpad for the future of the cooperative. We’ve got the template and this head office now can be the hub of the management of that to make it affordable for children and their families. Everyone now has upskilled to deliver that music for the future.

“The amount of pupils accessing music because of the high quality lessons, is going up.  And every level of talent gets looked after.  We don’t leave anyone behind – it’s totally inclusive.

“We’re reaching more and more pupils and I’m pretty sure more and more local authorities will take up the model and we’re here, willing and able to help with that and I’m very proud to be the Chair.”

Cllr Gill German, Cabinet Member for Education, Children and Families at Denbighshire County Council, is also a big fan of the organisation.

She said: “We’re particularly pleased to work with them on the roll out of the National Music Service, which is a Welsh Government initiative.

“It’s very valuable to reach out to children who might otherwise not have access to playing a musical instrument and they’ve been doing a great job rolling that programme out across Denbighshire.

“Music enriches the soul and wellbeing as well as having academic benefits. Music is a touchstone that can take you through life as a source of joy. The value is enormous.”