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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Raw Sounds

Raw Material
Raw Material
is a youth-led educational charity which aims to help young people reach their full potential through creative expression. Set up by director Tim Brown in 1994, Raw Material provides a range of high quality arts experiences and participatory programmes for young people and adults in Lambeth, Greater London, the UK and internationally. Raw Sounds is the music arm of the project and provides creative media sessions for people accessing mental health services.


For this month’s blog, I spoke with Hannah Hannah Kemp-Welch, Raw Sounds Programme Manager, who kindly gave me an insight into how the service works and the experience of those involved:


JT: Can you tell me a little about how the Raw Sounds project came about and how it has developed since then?

HKW: Raw Material's engagement with mental health work started in 2008, providing recording studio sessions for young people accessing mental health services referred through SLaM (South London and Maudsley NHS). The project was called 'Stereohype', and involved the production of original music work for presentations, events and mental health forums at Brixton's Ritzy cinema, for service users and professionals to come together to debate mental health issues in a performance event context.


In 2009 a grant of £10,000 was offered to Raw Material by SLaM to develop the music work further as a regular therapeutic service and to include staff training and development in mental health work. We appointed a project manager to run this from Key Changes, a mental health project in Islington that specialised in music work with mental health service users. We then jointly developed our approach to using music in work with people with mental illness referred to us by the NHS, in lively weekly sessions, covering live music, DJ skills, studio production and film making.

Since this time, the service has gone from strength to strength. In response to further requests from participants we have also:


  • Set up more external performance opportunities - participants performed 10 gigs at venues spanning from the Royal Festival Hall to the Brixton Jamm.
  • Started an additional Raw Sounds workshop series especially for women, holding weekly sessions with up to 10 participants.
  • Delivered 20 artist development sessions to hone skills and build professional portfolios for participants wishing to pursue music and media in education and employment.


Participants also progress to be music mentors, volunteers, and staff. Five of our participants have gone on to higher education, and five have begun college courses. We also have four service users currently undergoing specialist training to becoming Raw Sounds music mentors, working with staff to develop skills including facilitation and teaching.

'Every week I look forward to coming back to a Raw Sounds session, it keeps me motivated for the week ahead'

Where do most of the users of your service come from? What advice would you have for mental health professionals wishing to refer someone to your service?

The majority of our participants are referred by Care Coordinators and Occupational Therapists at South London and Maudsley NHS Trust, although we accept referrals from all boroughs. We also accept referrals from facilitators of support groups linked to charities such as Mind and Emergence. If you would like more information, our brochure may be found here, as well as a referral form and our contact details.

Tell us a little about your own role at Raw Sounds. What are the most rewarding and exciting parts of the job?

I manage the Raw Sounds programme in a job share with a colleague. We run four regular sessions a week in the community – instrument tuition, collaborative music making workshops, a ladies group, and artist development recording sessions.

My responsibilities generally fall into three categories: communicating, strategy and events.

My favourite part of this role is the strand of our work that takes place in hospitals – which we call ‘In Reach’. This is where we pack up our DJ-ing kit and take it onto hospitals wards with some microphones and hand drums, and get the whole ward involved in a jam session. Budding rappers spit freestyle into the microphone alongside some of our beats, we hear some karaoke singing to reggae favourites, and some people like to have a bit of a dance, others like to select tunes and make song requests.


Wards can often be a dismal place, distressing for new patients, and monotonous for those who are there for longer periods of time. My experience of delivering these sessions has shown outcomes beyond those anticipated – we’ve seen bonds form between hospital staff and patients during sessions, an uplifted mood for the whole ward, and perhaps most valuably, we’ve been able to offer a project to focus on, which can for a time transcend the hardships of life in hospital and give people hope for the future.


What has the feedback from those using your service been like? What are the most helpful and rewarding aspects for them do you think?

We invite the Care Coordinators who refer our Raw Sounds participants to us, to our end of term gig. One of the CCs who attended was greatly moved to see a client she had referred performing a beautiful song she had written live on stage in front of an audience. The CC stated that the last time she had seen her client, she was very unwell and that the lady performing on stage was ‘a miraculous transformation’.


Some feedback from young people includes:


'Every week I look forward to coming back to a raw sounds session, it keeps me motivated for the week ahead' 


'I get to learn in a fun and safe way, and now I don't feel so alone as I'm able to go to college cause I’ve learnt how to work with others'


‘Raw Sounds is a uniquely creative collective with the client’s vision at the forefront of everything.’

Raw Sounds

I think the most rewarding aspect for participants is to do with the peer led model Raw Sounds runs on. After a long stay in hospital, some people can feel a loss of agency. Our programme is designed to empower individuals and ensure truly relevant and supportive workshops through co-production and user engagement.

Many of those using your service have written and recorded their own material. Can you tell us a success story?

One of the young people who attended our sessions throughout the year began to develop her skills by participating in our live music group setting. Initially a quiet and shy young lady,

she was able to complete a full demo of her work. She was then able to use this demo in an application made by Raw Sounds for her to join the Amy Winehouse foundation and access their studio and expertise. Recently this young woman was featured on ITV News, showcasing her creative works to great acclaim. Her case shows the massive impact attending regular and bespoke sessions has on young peoples’ confidence, communication, social skills and employability. We are very happy to say she is also now in her first year of university, studying music.


Raw Sounds recently had a concert at Royal Festival Hall and regularly arrange smaller-scale gigs. Any particular events we should look out for?

We play a lot of gigs as it’s such a fun experience for our participants, as well as being a confidence boosting exercise. Most of our participants write lyrics about their experience of mental health and are keen to offer this out to the wider community, finding it both cathartic and therapeutic. We performed at the Adamson festival last week, and will be performing at the Institute of Psychiatry’s HERON conference this week.


We are holding an open day at our Brixton base on the 6th June, as part of LAHF’s Creativity and Wellbeing Week – all are welcome to attend! There will be open workshops demonstrating our methods of working with people accessing mental health services, the opportunity to meet our artists, share and discuss practice, and performances showcasing recent work produced by participants.


Look out for us at the Taking over the asylum on the 9th June at the Maudsley's ORTUS Learning Centre, and at Happy Heads Festival in July, again at the ORTUS.


Raw Sounds



  • Visit Raw Sounds website for further information about the service


  • Visit Raw Sounds’ Soundcloud page, where participants have the opportunity to showcase material recorded during the programme.



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Minds in Music

Minds in Music

  John Tully  


Dr John Tully is a forensic psychiatrist and researcher at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, London. He is also a musician and is interested in the role of the arts in mental health.