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December 3, 2019

EPIC sounds

Anyone who has organised a conference that stretches over two days and involves a dinner will know the dilemma of whether to provide some form of entertainment for delegates. My instinct is generally to veer away from laying anything on – just let folk get on with their conversations and networking. But I was outvoted recently when a social enterprise choir were commissioned to make a surprise end-of-meal appearance. Shameless plug  for SoundSational – book ‘em! They are sensational. Scotland’s vibrant voluntary arts scene held its annual awards night in Edinburgh recently. Some worthy winners.

Voluntary Arts Scotland

Fiona Hyslop MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs in Scotland said:

“I would like to congratulate all of the winners of the 2019 Epic Awards, including Musicians in Exile, which has done so much to help asylum seeking and refugee musicians in Glasgow. Voluntary arts is a truly vibrant sector: over 60,000 arts and crafts groups across the UK, including over 10,000 in Scotland alone, meeting regularly in town halls, libraries, theatres, churches, mosques and at kitchen tables. The Scottish Government believes that as many people as possible should be able to participate in these groups, which bring people of all backgrounds

The winner and runner-up from each nation were announced on 3 October at Central Hall in Edinburgh. The event was held as part of a programme of activity celebrating active ageing and creativity and hosted by presenter Janice Forsyth. The 2019 winners received bespoke crafted awards made by arts collective Jangling Space, as well as a cash prize. Winning or being shortlisted for an Epic Award can also have very positive effects for voluntary arts groups, who find their profile raised locally and nationally and that it can help with fundraising efforts.


“Where can I go to make music?” asked one refugee from El Salvador arriving in Scotland. The answer he was given was “Musicians in Exile” – a community project for asylum seeking and refugee musicians in Glasgow.

Professional facilitators help the ensemble shape their rehearsals, but what and how they play and perform is up to the musicians themselves. There is a great deal of intercultural interaction between the musicians, supporting each other musically and performing in mixed languages and styles.

As many asylum seekers flee without their instruments, these are purchased where possible and given to the musicians on long-term loan. Once every two months, they perform in Glasgow, live-streaming the concerts on their Facebook page. This gives everyone a regular goal and also presents the musicians to the wider public.

Legally forbidden to work, playing in the ensemble offers the musicians an outlet to give back to their host communities. Music is a universal language, with the power to bridge cultural and language barriers – asylum seekers who are still mastering English, as well as audiences unfamiliar with the cultures of new Scots, find this particularly meaningful. Through the group, the musicians build a new sense of family, networks with local musicians and retrieve their intrinsic cultures, benefiting their own well-being and that of the wider community.

“When you flee a troubled land, you’ve not only left everything behind, but also have to start over in a very foreign land. Musicians In Exile gives asylum seeking musicians their instruments and voices back so they can regularly rehearse and perform again, retrieve their cultures, rebuild their networks, friendships and give back to their host communities. It’s an incredibly simple project, and as well as being revealing and healing.”

Paul MacAlindin, Artistic Director of The Glasgow Barons


24 Carat Gold are a group of dancers who met at Dance Base in Edinburgh nine years ago, when they took part in a class for people aged over 60. They enjoyed the class so much, they decided to set up their own group to have more opportunities to dance, experiment with choreography and perform.

The dancers in 24 Carat Gold are aged from 60 to 87 years old and their dance experiences range from contemporary, jazz, tap, ballet, belly dancing and line dancing to ballroom and Scottish country dancing. The group meets fortnightly, and funds its own sessions.

The Carats regularly take part in festivals and events, performing for large and small but always appreciative crowds. They work hard, dance, laugh, share thoughts and emotions – they help each other celebrate the good things and listen and support during sad times. They teach each other, learn different styles of dance from each other and have a lot of fun.

“Winning an Epic Award is a very special landmark for the 24 Carat Gold dancers. We get so much pleasure from dancing together and sharing the fun of learning new routines. The Award is lovely because it shows us that other people have enjoyed our efforts too and they have realised that age is absolutely no barrier to learning new skills.”

Jill Knox, 24 Carat Gold


Kirrie Connections is a community dementia support hub, based in the rural Angus town of Kirriemuir. Each week it hosts a variety of different sessions for its members who are living with dementia, and their family carers. Over the past year their arts and crafts groups have tried out activities such as rug-making, mosaicking, printmaking and plaster mould casting to name but a few.

The project would be nothing without the incredible support it gets from its team of over 30 volunteers, who each bring a wealth of skills, knowledge and experience to the sessions. Lack of social interaction can have a hugely detrimental effect for people with dementia, and can lead to a spiral of depression and acceleration of the progress of their dementia. Kirrie Connections’ person-centred approach ensures that people with dementia can remain active and creative members of their community.

Creative projects are always initiated by conversations between the volunteers and members, with everything produced coming from a joint process. Whatever the activity, the arts and craft group is always one of the highlights of the week for those taking part.

“Kirrie Connections is delighted that our team of volunteers has been recognised with this award. The passion and dedication they show in supporting our members who are living with dementia really makes Kirrie Connections a special place. Every week they are a vital part in ensuring that people with dementia remain active and engaged in their local community.”

Graham Galloway