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  • Writer's pictureSue Williamson

Straight from the Horse's Mouth: The Autumn term at Tang Hall SMART

After a HUGE amount of work behind the scenes, I am now in a position to outline how we will be working next term, and there are some differences, and admittedly there have been challenges, working out how we can achieve the best outcome in the current climate. We are putting safety first, and as a consequence have had to make reductions to the amount of people we can work with on-site; so be prepared for some news in this post, about some difficult decisions, which may cause some disappointment. I will be letting you all know about how we are preparing ourselves for the strange times ahead, and how this affects our day-to-day delivery. But rest assured, we are still the same Tang Hall SMART, with our same passion in music and the arts, the same belief in the power of activity and connectivity to enhance and change a person's life, and, as ever, totally focused on creating a sense of community and belonging, which right now seems more needed than ever.

But to begin with a little summary of just a few of the difficulties .... and there is no escaping the fact that our rooms are small. We have a lovely suite of rooms, with some nice little spaces for small group work- but who could have predicted when we were planning our rooms back in 2017, that in the autumn of 2020, we would not be able to use several of them as they don't allow enough space for people to stand 2 metres apart from each other? And even our biggest rooms don't allow for more than 5 people when the correct distance is maintained. A second factor is that we have a much higher proportion than usual of people with increased vulnerability to illness, so we have to spend a great deal more time than before on enhanced cleaning of rooms and equipment, and whilst we are all in the position of reducing the risk of infection, this job has taken on a huge significance. So putting it simply, just taking into account these two facts alone has meant we have had to make significant reductions to the amount of clubs, classes and activities we can put on at The Centre, and the amount of people we can have at any one time on site. Last Spring, before the Lock-Down, there were around 140 people coming to Tang Hall SMART every week: and now, we will have to reduce this down to about 35. .

We have prioritised the educational programmes we deliver to young people - not only does this seem right to us given the importance of education, but it is also an expectation from government that all education will re-commence in September. Even then, our usual Smart-Ways Post-16 personalised programme of 14 hours has been reduced to 4 or 6 hours on site for each individual. And sadly, once these programmes are scheduled in, there is hardly any time left for anything else on-site, and we have realised that we have had to therefore 'put on pause' all of these wonderful clubs and activities: Sound-SMART, Inclusive Rock School, Community Music, Junior Rock School, Blues Club, Tang Hall Chorus, Art Club, Community Drama, Flourish@Smart choir, Safe-Base, ESF-work programme etc. This is very sad indeed as we know how much people enjoy coming to us, and the impact this can have; we have really enjoyed working with everyone, all the activities, the conversations, the rehearsals and concerts - it is so frustrating too, when we have worked extremely hard over the last 6 years building these clubs and classes up! We do have some plans for at least some of these, to be run in a different way over the next term, using virtual-platforms, and also thinking 'out of the box' - but it won't be until the new year at the earliest that we will see any of these start up again at our base. But if you attend any of these, please watch this space for how we intend to move into a virtual world. If you haven't already heard from us via email, and you were on our books as a member in the spring term, you will be contacted in the next few weeks to offer you our on-line version.

Musication and Kickstart (our programmes for people experiencing multiple disadvantages such as homelessness, addiction, poor mental health etc) - haven't been paused, not totally, but they have been significantly changed, and again, these programmes have been hugely reduced. We have prioritised people who were on our books already and who were attending regularly up until March 2020, and in all of these cases I will be in touch individually in the next fortnight to explain about what we are able to offer you. I am afraid we cannot offer on-site places to anyone new, or anyone who used to come and who wants to reconnect until January at the very earliest. However, we do have a brilliant new virtual music and arts community for adults - and I will be launching this at the end of August and contacting everyone on our books, past and current, as well as those on our waiting lists with details about how you can become a member of this, and take part in on-line open mic nights, receive video tutorials, share your work on our platforms, and engage with other members.

So now you have heard the worst. I want to end with a summary of the positives.

Firstly, we still exist. We have not 'gone under' we have not had to reduce staff, and are as committed as ever, and determined to make things work as well as we can.

Secondly the last few months have allowed us to develop two great on-line systems that we would otherwise not have had the time and motivation to do. This is a direction we had planned to move in at some point in the distant future, but the pandemic has brought the need for this into sharper focus, and we have diverted a great deal of time and resources to ensuring the quality of these. We will be ready to launch SMART-SPACE and THS Music and Arts Community by the end of August.

Thirdly - our YouTube videos are now nicely curated and divided into three channels to reflect three distinct brands:

Tang Hall Smart CIC : all our community videos, our documentaries, all the music videos featuring young rappers with learning disabilities, our concerts, our summer schools and more

THS Musication - for adults, including those experiencing mental health issues, homelessness, addiction etc

David at THS Live - David is our 'puppet' - he is rude, fun, locked into his own fantasy world - and sometime a menace! All of his videos are now on David's channel.

Please do check out the channels and subscribe if you haven't already. There is some great output on them, and of course, watch this space for my end-of-August blog where I launch the new on-line spaces!

Thank you for reading. Your support and loyalty means a great deal, and spurs us on to continue to do the best we can.

All the very best to you, Sue

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