Despite some tough times over the last three or four years, Orb has succeeded in staying open through thick and thin whilst a lot of other good providers have fallen by the wayside. We have helped to deliver day services for North Yorkshire County Council’s Health and Adult Services, we have supported patients referred from local GP surgeries, and we have offered community learning courses and creative wellbeing sessions to the broader public. All of this has seen Orb increasingly able to stand on its own two feet, delivering quality contracted services and paying its own way.
That said, it has still been a difficult few years, and we do still rely on the support of a number of trust funds and charitable foundations. These aim to provide funds to organisations such as ourselves, plugging the budget gaps which most small charities face. Their work is particularly valuable to those of us seeking to offer support to some of our community’s most marginalised people, who often fall through the gaps in regular funded support.
Some of those funding bodies are sizeable, such as the Santander Trust, who have offered us much needed support. Others are more modestly sized, with a pronounced local focus. A couple of these smaller funders – The Brelms Trust and The Charles & Elsie Sykes Trust – made a real difference to Orb last year. Both of them contributed money towards the cost of employing our studio manager, Andy Fretwell. This has made a huge positive impact on the amount of support we’ve been able to provide to our clients, and the type of sessions that we’ve been able to do.
Thanks to the generosity of these two trusts, Andy has been able to deliver a wide range of services, including studio sessions, guitar lessons, recording sessions, group improvisations, songwriting skill workshops, and a whole range of other great initiatives that have greatly benefitted our service users.
We sat down in the Orb garden with Andy the other day, and asked him to tell us a bit more about his role at Orb. This is what he had to say.
“My primary role is studio manager, so I’m here every day. It’s a very client-centred role. People come in with an idea of what they want to do, and I try and make it happen, helped by a full range of recording facilities and a lot of volunteer staff who are musicians.”
“It varies from people coming in and singing songs over backing tracks, to people writing their own music and trying to form bands, or putting together their own songs on the computer. Lately I’ve been giving quite a lot of guitar lessons as well, which has been really interesting.”
“About three and a half years ago, I came down to Orb as part of my university course, with three other students. We worked with a few of the clients, just for one day a week, as a backing band: helping people to write songs and record them. We really enjoyed that. We were only meant to come down for a few weeks, but we kept coming for weeks after our deadline had finished. Then I graduated, and was between jobs. I got in touch with Orb again and asked if they needed any volunteers, because I liked the organisation. It was just something to keep me busy, and to get me out of the house a couple of times a week, while I was looking for work. The old studio manager was off for a little while, so I covered for him. Then eventually he moved on, and I got offered the job. That was nearly two years ago.”
“I have clients who I’ve been working with since before I became a full time member of staff, and there are new people coming in all the time. Some former clients of mine are now working as volunteers, teaching newer clients, and that’s really good to see.”
“The big thing lately has been the evening groups, which have been very positive. They’re open to a wider client base, so you meet a new range of people. I’ve been involved in teaching some of the groups, and handling the bigger group dynamic has been a fresh challenge, as I usually work one-on-one with people. We had a “Fusion Orchestra”, which was a music group from any level of musical background. The idea was that somebody could come in with no musical skill, or they could come in having fully mastered an instrument, and we would combine all of that to make one cohesive performance.”
“The idea of the current evening group is to do some field recording – we captured some birdsong in the garden, for example – and then go into the studio, using it as the backdrop to play music over, and seeing how it influences the music. We also had a field trip to my old university in Leeds. We visited their anechoic chamber – which is a room with no echo, a completely dead space – and we made some recordings on the streets of Leeds.”
“I suppose I’m a kind of facilitator. It’s not like we have set courses, where people come in and learn certain things. It’s more a case of people coming in with an idea: ‘I want to write this song’, or ‘I want to learn how to do this”, or “I want to meet other people who will be in a band with me”. Then it’s my job to say: alright, let’s make that happen. It’s all about helping people to achieve what they came in wanting to achieve.”