Transforming Communities

Remote song-writing with Combe Pafford School


Combe Pafford is a special school in Torquay catering for pupils aged 8-19 with moderate learning difficulties and autism spectrum conditions. They hosted LMN’s last pre-pandemic live concert, in March 2020 and after the concert we talked about projects we might like to explore together once the COVID-related disruptions were over. The music coordinator, Karen Puffett, was keen to host a longer Live Music Now project and, once funding was in place from the Clare Milne Trust and Northbrook Community Trust, we began planning a song-writing residency with a focus on students’ mental health and the impact of lockdown and periods of isolation.

Whilst we had originally envisaged a blended project mixing online and in-person sessions, the third lockdown in January 2021 meant that we needed to move the project entirely online. LMN musician Chris Webb, despite initially admitting to being “terrified” at the prospect of leading a seven-week project over Zoom, took up the challenge enthusiastically. Supported by mentor (and former LMN musician) Sadie Fleming, he worked with two classes of pupils who remained in school, and one group joining from home. Together they collected ideas about things which made them happy (as well as things which saddened or annoyed them) and began working these into a song. Chris drew ideas for both lyrics and music from the pupils, and finally arranged them into a song called “Beach Day”, which you can hear at the end of the film above.

We began the project unsure as to how a creative and interactive project would work online, particularly without the musician and participants ever having met in person. The screen wasn’t a barrier at all to the formation of positive creative relationships –  a suprise to everyone involved!

“This project has been brilliant and really given the pupils confidence and enjoyment. They look forward to it every week and seven weeks doesn’t feel long enough – they would happily have a session with Chris each week!” Karen Puffett, Music coordinator

“It was clear to see wider developments in many of the pupils over the course of the project, particularly in terms of confidence self-expression, self-esteem, communication, behaviour and interaction.” Sadie Fleming, mentor

“I loved it all…  but the best thing about it was seeing the difference in the children from week 1 to week 7. Some of them were off camera in Week 1 because they were shy / nervous…by week 7 [they were] front and centre and having a fantastic time.” Chris Webb, musician-in-residence