Features Editor Katrin Magnussen meets the man behind local charity, School Ground Sounds, to find out how he’s changing the lives of young, musically talented students.
Tom Scott enthuses about School Ground Sounds (SGS), the charity he founded last year. “For me it has all the best bits of teaching. I’m working with amazing young people, but it’s stress-free and combines everything I enjoy doing.”
“SGS is a charity that’s a little different – it’s more down with the kids, I guess”, softly-spoken Tom says with a smile. “Some music charities’ websites are all about syntax, impact and data, things that are quite inaccessible. SGS is about showcasing students and
putting them in the centre.” Tom explains how his interest in music and recording was sparked
whilst studying at Bristol University. He launched a YouTube channel entitled Bristol Couch with a friend, where they interviewed and filmed local up-and-coming artists on a big red sofa. They even got some scoops.
“We were lucky enough to film George Ezra, when he was 18. We got the first two music videos that he ever recorded, which was fantastic” he explains.
After graduating in 2012, Tom returned to his old stomping grounds of Lambeth to work as maths teacher at Elmgreen Secondary School, Tulse Hill. “I did a ‘teach-first programme’ which means that you are in the school first for two years to see if you will keep going or not.” The fresh maths teacher soon noticed that many students were preoccupied with other things besides numbers and calculations. “When teaching I could see so many students that were not engaged at all – they were just looking out of the window or running around the corridors singing, just wanting to perform. So I thought, let’s just combine the two; get them into the studio,” explains Tom.
“Elmgreen Secondary School has the most amazing music department and recording studio, but it was hardly being used. I had my camera equipment so I recorded them in the studio as they were singing, to let them get a taste of production.”
For some students, recording music may provide them with just a boost, whilst others could use it to establish industry links. “They will share the video on social media, with their friends; you can see the spring in their step after they have done it, says Tom and adds, ”music making is linked to everything from self-esteem to social development, and it gives these young people a sense of identity.”
This is forms the backbone of SGS. Following a teacher’s nomination that they are ready for such a platform, each student is provided with a free three-hour session in the Elmgreen recording studio (“Elmgreen School have so supportive”). Most sing, but some rap or play instruments. Whilst they perform, Tom films them and the result is a professional video which is then published on both the School Ground Sounds’ website and YouTube. “A few thousand people might see the video, so it’s a big lift for them and a boost to their self esteem. You can imagine their parents and the teachers!” he explains with genuine excitement.
“What I found from my Bristol couch days, just having that video is so powerful,” Tom’s excitement is catching. One of the students, Noemie created quite a buzz with her video: “She’s had lots of people approach her saying ‘we’d like to work with you’ and Luke Pritchard from the Kooks saw it and commented ‘great video, well done!’”
“If we get a few hundred students that would be amazing, smiles Tom, adding: “and if a few of those students make it in the music industry that would be great! We are never going to be short of students and it won’t cost the schools a penny to do it, it’s all a free service and I will want to keep that way. I really love it.”
The charity offers opportunities beyond the recording as well, with imminent plans to run free workshops to students wanting to learn music production or who just want to practise. ”I am also looking for voice coaches, technicians and young writers to help out with the blog”, says Tom. “I am a one-man-band at SGS, but have a lot of great volunteers such as music teachers, voice coaches and various people who have offered their advice along the way – so it feels very much like a team effort.”
One reason that SGS provides such a vital service is that music education in state schools is often sidelined and not prioritised, says Tom, with secondary schools allocating as little as around £1.50 per child.
He hopes to enable students across London the benefits of free professional recordings, and has already been in talks with Camden’s Roundhouse as another potential recording base. In Brixton, it will shortly join forces with fellow music charity Raw Materials.
“There are a lot of talented students at the schools we have been working with, and it just makes me think: how many more schools and students out there are just sitting on their talents not doing anything about it? My mission is to discover it!”