Not just a band, it’s a way of life!

IT was just over two years ago that the decision was made to start offering courses to the members of the East bank Protestant Boys Flute band.

Forward thinking Community worker Tommy Lynch realised that if the band was to progress on a professional footing, work needed to be done - for a start in order to draw down funding for instruments, uniforms and tuition then policies would be needed on crucial issues such as child protection.

“No matter which funding body you looked at, you had to have a child protection policy in place, but you had no chance of putting down a policy if nobody knew what it meant, so eight members of the band went through child protection training. It was a gruelling course, but because we used the community centre and were going out to different venues, we needed it,” said Mr Lynch.

It also occurred to Tommy that having this type of training would enhance the employment prospects of some of the band members: “I just thought this might help them get a job in the future, which proved to be the case.”

It was not long before first aid training followed, and it generated such a buzz within the band that the members began asking for other courses.

“I was in the community centre at the time and pushed to get GCSEs through, including mathematics, English and computers. Some of the older members had never even switched on a computer, and all of them came out with grades. It was wonderful to see the confidence that this gave them,” said Tommy.

The training offered has also banded the musicians together as they went through academic study and music side-by-side.

Thanks to the investment in study, the band has been able to draw down funding from the Ulster Scots Agency which has been put to good use with a 20-week drumming course and a similar one for flute.

“That made us push ourselves more, because we had to have eight willing participants for each course. However, we got 11 signing up for flute and there were nine in the drum class. What we did notice about the courses and what we were doing with the band was allowing us to connect with the younger generation, and the positive effects spread out into the wider Waterside community, because we now have quite a few members from Lincoln Courts, Kilfennan and Drumahoe. What we are doing has spread right out.

“People now know that we have all this training and it has helped us to break down barriers. Parents seem to me to be more willing to let their children join because they know their children are safe. There are over 600 bands in Northern Ireland and every band had a drugs policy, so if you are caught taking substances then you are gone, you are out. Bands are the biggest youth movement in the UK with over 30,000 members. The bands scene has 15,000 young members under the age of 25.” he said proudly.