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Music Man Project builds creative platform for disabled people in Medway, Maidstone and Bexley

A project is building the confidence of disabled people across the county by giving them an outlet to perform music.

The Music Man Project has Kent groups in Medway, Maidstone and Bexley, and are led by director Sarah Mann.

Listen to Sarah Mann talking about the project on the KM Community Podcast.

The life-long music teacher decided to leave her job and dedicate herself to the scheme, which at the time had no groups set up in Kent.

She said: "When I first heard about it I got in touch with David Stanley who's in charge of the project and funded it.

"I said 'is there anything like this in Kent?' And he said 'no, but we'd love to have something,' so it kind of snowballed from there."

There are now around 100 people who regularly attend the sessions across the county and take part in concerts.

Performers from across the county attend the Music Man groups
Performers from across the county attend the Music Man groups

The disabilities of the performers range from autism and Aspergers, to Down syndrome and more complex physical and mental conditions.

Mrs Mann said: "It covers every disability and we try to make it accessible for all."

The music director even makes sure she can include those who cannot play an instrument or sing.

She said: "We do sign training alongside the singing so those that can't communicate verbally can also communicate with signing through their hands."

Sian Ford took along her daughter Ellen, 21, after finding out about the sessions.

Sarah Mann is the director of the Music Man Project in Kent, picture here with one of the members
Sarah Mann is the director of the Music Man Project in Kent, picture here with one of the members

Ellen has been diagnosed with autism, ADHD and developmental delay, and needs the full-time care and attention of her mother.

She said: "Its increased her confidence, she gets a real joy from it.

"It's also be quite enabling for Ellen - she did a performance and sang her first solo piece with a microphone.

"She has come so far in her confidence."

In April last year the Kent performers joined Music Man groups across the country to perform at the Royal Albert Hall.

Sian with her daughter Ellen
Sian with her daughter Ellen

The participants performed alongside a full orchestra to an audience of thousands.

Mrs Ford said: "The Royal Albert Hall was amazing - going down to the dressing rooms afterwards and hearing everyone feeling so proud of themselves and what they’d just achieved, it shows what a positive experience it is."

The director of the project David Stanley is hoping to go even further and organise a show on Broadway in the future.

Mrs Mann said performances like the Royal Albert Hall gives performers with disabilities opportunities they might not otherwise get.

The 51-year-old said: "We've got one chap that's a phenomenal pianist and he's never had the opportunity to shine.

The performers had the opportunity to play the Royal Albert Hall
The performers had the opportunity to play the Royal Albert Hall

"He played at the Albert Hall, and for him it's been a huge boost because it's something that he's always wanted to do, but never had the opportunity."

Nicholas Harvey, 19, has complex learning difficulties including autism and epilepsy, as well as being nonverbal.

His mother Heather found out about the Music Man Project through another parent, but did not think it would be the right environment for her son's complex needs.

She said: "I thought ‘my son doesn’t do noise, crowds, people - I'll get him in there, he'll stay 2 or 3 minutes and then want to go home.'"

After three months of regularly attending the sessions in Medway and getting Nicholas used to the surroundings, he finally joined in for a full session.

Heather Harvey with her son Nicholas
Heather Harvey with her son Nicholas

Mrs Harvey said: "Now he loves it. He smiles, goes in and high fives everybody, the confidence has been incredible.

"I never imagined before getting him out of the house. He’s clapping along with other children, clapping and singing along."

Mrs Harvey said emotions can run high for the parents and carers during the concerts.

She said: "The amount of tears some of us mums have sat there are shed."

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