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February 13, 2013

The sound of music business

The slow but steady progress of Glasgow’s Violence Reduction Unit has been attracting attention from police forces all over the country.  Solving the problem of deep-rooted gang culture and street violence is clearly a huge challenge but for the first time in years it appears that there’s real cause for optimism.  Reflecting this new energy to tackle an age old problem, Connect Community Trust in Easterhouse have just launched a new music-based social enterprise as their contribution to the multi-agency effort.


Rachel Loxton, Evening Times

POP stars, police chiefs and charities have all had a role in tackling gang culture in a Glasgow’s area. Now there is a new weapon in the fight to beat the violence that has blighted Easterhouse for more than 50 years – music.

The Connect Community Trust, in Wellhouse, Greater Easterhouse, is offering young people the chance to make money from playing music. It is urging aspiring singers and musicians to join Soundhire, a new social enterprise set up to create jobs.

The group, which was previously called the Wellhouse Community Trust, serves about 10,000 people a year, from youngsters to the elderly, as well as those with learning disabilities. 

Music co-ordinator Ross Ferguson, 30, said he was inspired to launch entertainment agency Soundhire a year ago. He said: “We have always done a lot of music projects, but started thinking we could do even more with it. I began as a performer and was making a living doing functions in pubs and clubs for an agency. That was my bread and butter. A lot of young people are so talented they could be doing it too. Youth unemployment is a major problem, so why not use music to try and give people jobs?”

The project will not only help budding performers. Mr Ferguson hopes anyone who wants a job in the music industry behind the scenes can learn too. The group has its own music studio near the hub in Wellhouse, which has a PA system, equipment and rehearsal space.

Mr Ferguson said: “We are looking for funding to set up a training programme.”

It is hoped established acts, such as local band Raintown, who have supported Wet Wet Wet on tour, will be able to pass on knowledge and experience. “It will be like an apprenticeship,” said Mr Ferguson.

“Raintown are a great example of what local musicians can do and they have helped out a lot so far. Lots of young people can sing or want to get involved in the music industry, but they lack the skills or the equipment, so we are making it accessible for them.”

On a typical morning the hub is buzzing with excitement. With more than 30 volunteers and about a dozen staff, groups of people flock in and out to use the various rooms, computers, the sports hall or the cafe. As well as music groups, staff run youth groups, walks for older people, bingo events and social groups for people with disabilities.

The trust has teamed up with other agencies, including the JobCentre, and offers courses to help get people back into work. It is clear that the independent charity, launched in 2003 by local people, is a lifeline for the community.  Gang fighting began more than half a century ago when the suburb was built.

Despite interventions from politicians and, famously, singer Frankie Vaughan in the 1960s, who urged the gangs to stop fighting, the violence filtered through generations as young people followed in their parents’ footsteps into one of several gangs.

Mr Ferguson said: “I don’t know what would happen if the trust was not here. Easterhouse was an area suffering because of anti-social behaviour, but we have been providing diversionary activities to limit this.”

He says territorial problems have almost been stamped out.

He said: “I know the number of incidents of anti-social behaviour have been falling in this area. Gang fighting is still happening, but it is decreasing all the time. In fact, I saw a comment on Facebook the other day that said: ‘Who actually even gang fights any more?’ 

“And that was made by a young guy who comes to our groups, so I just think there is so much more for them nowadays and we want to keep building on that.”

Soundhire has six people so far, with bookings for wedding and other events coming in. Singer Lee-Anne Douglas, 22, is a part-time worker with the trust but began volunteering when she was 15. Despite initially being too scared to sing alone, she now performs solo, fronts a band and tutors hundreds of young people.

She will support Raintown when the duo play the Oran Mor, in the city’s West End, on February 23. She said: “Although I could sing, I was so nervous I would cry and run out the room if anyone asked me to. I owe everything to the trust and pride everything in it. Although I like performing, tutoring is the best because I get to see young people like I was. I tell them, ‘Get up there and sing’.”