Major new music project to 'transform lives' in Edinburgh's Wester Hailes

An award-winning music education charity has revealed it is to work in Edinburgh for the first time in a bid to transform the lives of hundreds children growing up in one part of the city.

Sistema Scotland has announced it will be launching a major project in Wester Hailes – months after celebrations to mark 50 years of the creation of the first housing there.

A new “Big Noise” community orchestra will be gradually created under the project, which aims to reach more than 400 participants in its first year, and will eventually involve everyone from babies to school-leavers in Wester Hailes.

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It targets “disadvantaged” parts of Scotland for intensive long-term programmes offering youngsters up to four after-school sessions of intervention and support a week during term time, and up to four days each week during the spring, summer and autumn holidays until they leave school.

Sistema Scotland says its classes and workshops are intended to help young people to reach their full potential through music, as well as strengthen each community it works in.

Programmes are also designed to help participants “develop confidence, teamwork, resilience, pride and aspiration as well as the capacity to work hard, supporting them to reach their potential and lead successful and fulfilled lives.”

The charity, based on the “El Sistema” movement instigated in Venezuela in 1975, works with leading Scottish musicians, including the percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie and violinist Nicola Benedetti.

It is currently working with around 2800 participants in four areas – Raploch, in Stirling where its first Big Noise Orchestra was launched in 2008, Govanhill in Glasgow, Torry in Aberdeen and Douglas in Dundee.

Sistema Scotland chief executive Nicola Killean, Rachel Odutona, Big Noise musician Elizabeth McColl, Jaxson Davidson, Alice Ajayi and Benny Higgins, chairman of Sistema Scotland. Picture: Jeff Holmes

Big Noise Wester Hailes, which has been developed in collaboration with the city council, will initially be working with the Clovenstone, Canal View and Sighthill primaries and nurseries.

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Sistema Scotland chair Benny Higgins said: “We believes that all children and young people have great skills, talents and potential.

"We also know many of Scotland’s communities face long-standing inequalities and challenges that make it extremely difficult for children to achieve their hopes, ambitions and dreams.

"The impact of Covid-19 has greatly exacerbated these inequalities. Now more than ever, we must think and act creatively to ensure Scotland’s children are given the opportunities and support they deserve.”

Big Noise musician Elizabeth McColl with Rachel Odutona, Jaxson Davidson and Alice Ajayi.
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Nicole Killean, chief executive of Sistema Scotland, said: “We’re greatly looking forward to starting a new Big Noise programme in Wester Hailes,

which will work in partnership with children, young people, families, schools and the community for many years to come.

"We also hope to work alongside local charities and community groups to bring additional support and value to Wester Hailes.”

Benedetti said: “Sistema Scotland’s consistent dedication to quality and expansion is an inspiration to all of us and I am so excited that they are finally in Edinburgh with this new Big Noise programme at Wester Hailes.”

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Sam Laidlaw, who has three children growing up in Wester Hailes, said: “Big Noise coming to Wester Hailes is such a great opportunity.

"Taking part will help the children grow their confidence. They will also come away from the programme with the ability to play a musical instrument by the time they leave school.

“I think Big Noise will help bring people together and bring a sense of pride to the community."

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Neil McIntosh