Hand drawn illustration of musical notes, a brain, a heart, an ear with 'how are you' written in a curve

A blog by Anna Batson (Creativity & Learning Director) taking a look behind the scenes at how the team who deliver the work at PMZ are doing.

We feel it’s important to share some of what it means to be a part of PMZ from our participants’ voices, our volunteers, visitors, friends, families and indeed our own staff team

How are you?

It’s a bit of a worry to ask these days! What kind of an answer might you receive? 

We’ve all journeyed through collective trauma over the past few years. We are continuing to find our way through the challenges of working in the arts and charity/voluntary sector, not to mention global instability. Despite this, it’s our firm belief at Plymouth Music Zone that togetherness matters – let’s keep talking and supporting one another. By that we mean as a team, but also reaching out to the wider sector so that togetherness with other organisations facing similar challenges can really help. 

Plymouth Music Zone has built up a ‘music leader support hub’ for its team, including those not currently in contracted work with us. This is known as our ‘music leader pool’. This support includes regular gatherings throughout the year. During the pandemic, these gatherings migrated online and were hugely important for people working in isolation. They continue to be highly valued and a place to bring timely issues. We now offer them in-person, but a hybrid version is available for people only able to attend online. 

The sessions incorporate a mix of specific training (e.g. musical toolkit building, tech training, emotional support), but most importantly an open and supportive forum for people to discuss what people feel is important to them within the work. 

In early spring 2022, and again in July, we offered our music leaders a space to talk about how things are now for them. This was focused on their work within the organisation, however we have shared this more widely as we felt this might be useful for others to hear. Many practitioners (particularly freelancers) are feeling similar things. It feels more important than ever to remain connected and supported as music leaders and teams running music organisations across the UK. 

Here are some of the main themes that came out of our July 2022 music leader gathering. This feedback has come directly from music leaders working with both children and adults in a wide range of workshops held at PMZ. 

General temperature check…(no, not just for Covid symptoms!)


Plymouth Music Zone has continued to use Covid-19 safety measures, such as wearing masks when moving around spaces (in our own building and when offering outreach sessions), rigorous cleaning of equipment, instruments and furniture. The organisation has also invested in testing kits for all staff so that the costs of continued regular testing has not fallen to our team. In return, staff are expected to test regularly before running workshops. We do not enforce mask wearing by participants, but many continue to do so. We have been told that our efforts have been very much appreciated.  We work with children and adults many of whom have medical vulnerabilities, so we feel that these continued measures are a responsible path to take. 

Comments from our music leaders about how they feel Covid-19 is still affecting them and the work: 

  • Covid continues to be incredibly impactful and continues to cause issues across the board. Staff shortages, trying to find cover for sessions, last-minute cancellations, additional complexities when booking work with partner organisations.
  • Continued concern around people catching Covid. This became very real when working back in-person but it feels like a continuous concern, felt badly if not worse around a sense of responsibility to self and others. We want to do all we can so the organisation is keeping people as safe as possible when they’re with us. 
  • The rest of the world compared to Plymouth Music Zone seems very confusing in terms of how safe people feel. Even out shopping or doing everyday things. Some of the world has opened up as normal, but for many it’s still a terrifying and unsafe prospect to engage in social events or make music with other people. It feels very different here. Massively different comfort levels. 
  • Guilt – living with it and accepting the risk – what if I gave Covid to someone without meaning to? This feels like holding a line which is exhausting.  
  • Outreach work is a different experience to being based in a familiar building. Places and people don’t have the same value and respect. Schools have different approaches to dealing with Covid and are under enormous staffing pressures, as are residential care settings. This is exhausting too for music leaders to navigate.  
  • If there is a new wave incoming (perhaps in the winter?), we need to keep diligent and prepared for apathy.  PMZ has reiterated its position via social media / website and we will continue to wear masks around the building / regular testing etc.
  • “Networks of intimacy” (phrase coined within our ‘Beyond Words’ research report about all those who surround an individual within their life – report here: https://plymouthmusiczone.org.uk/beyond-words/) – holds a new meaning with the context of Covid! This entire time has been a good and bad reminder of this. Someone catching Covid at PMZ could then infect others.
  • Support networks are still in place and PMZ’s position in amongst this is still present and purposeful.  
  • PMZ attitude towards health and wellbeing in general is always reassuring – We’ve always been person centred and continue to be. I’m happy with what is in place.  

People participating in a music workshop. Leader on the right hand side with his guitar and a microphone. Participants sitting at tables in a semi circle

General picture / questions (we couldn’t answer them all!) included discussions around:  

  • Continued impact of Covid across the board
  • Are our participants more needy now than ever before?
  • What’s needed now? 
  • What do we mean to our participants? 
  • Are we being asked too much of in some areas? Are we plugging gaps in other systems and providers that are failing our society?
  • Numbers of participants has increased within groups than ever before. This is being measured.  People are turning up weekly and have expressed relying on the sessions for their wellbeing.
  •  The size of our programme has had to shrink a little, but deeper engagement and the breadth of the work is there. 
  • Being a safe environment matters to people – Blogs, being seen, role modelling best behaviour, clear communication with participants and partner organisations.  
  • Emotional side of things – Noticing higher interpersonal connections – nurturing and thinking of others.
  • Care and interactions working both ways – this is all super necessary of course but it comes with personal and professional risk. As music leaders we need more support ourselves to be able to help others. PMZ is doing all it can to make sure we look after our team. 
  •  ‘Reading’ people and groups – facemasks have been a barrier but have brought a shared experience of understanding and communication to everyone. Leading and connecting beyond the mask – some real learning here!  
  • Humour – shared experience, accommodating experiences either good and bad with good humour. 

Changes to the emotional landscapes we are working in?   

  • People (both staff and participants) feeling like they can be emotional and share their feelings at PMZ. Nurture. Lots of tears.
  • Compartmentalisation – over stimulation. Bottling up emotion and experience. This can a useful tool for coping but can also be highly destructive if appropriate places to share and compartmentalise can’t be found. 
  • Relativity of worries, problems and celebration.
  • Reliance on PMZ. Feeling like we can move away from the work without feeling guilt and leaving people behind. Yes people are leaning on us right now of all ages and we are leaning on each other.  
  • Genuine interest in us as staff – boundaries – give what we’re comfortable giving. Different people have different boundaries. Not to judge but staff should feel comfortable to share. 

“I’ve really noticed that our participants have asked how we are a lot more than they used to.” (A Musicleader)

  • The music has not been taken away, but these feel like people workshops now not just musical workshops. This has upped creativity and musicality (e.g. song writing). Workshops are about making – making memories, connecting, having experiences and building on those (musical or otherwise).

People playing drums together

“Our own energy is different – we’ve all got different amount of reserves available to us now – sometimes I feel a bit depleted to be honest. We need to think about self-care as there’s a lot of burnout – what picks us up and what do we need to do to just get by?” (A Musicleader) 

We had a conversation about emotional currency and the costs of working at PMZ / challenging settings? Also what’s wonderful about the work and what’s ‘filling our tanks’. This included interests outside work that were important to maintain, such as our own musicality, learning a new skill, cooking healthy meals, gardening, outdoor activities, Astrophotography(!), time for exercise – prioritising this and protecting time to make it happen. 

What are we doing to support Plymouth Music Zone staff through these continued challenging times? 

  • Nov 2019 Anna Batson attends national ThinkTank on Musicians’ Resilience, Snape Maltings (irony isn’t lost that this takes place a few months before the pandemic!) Learning shared with projects across the UK and stories and anecdotes directly from our music leaders.
  • Mar 2020 – Covid 19 global pandemic. PMZ continues to operate, pays music leaders and staff and moves programme online (‘Extraordinary Times Programme’)
  • Plymouth Music Zone Wins National Practising Well Award November 30, 2020  from the Culture Health & Wellbeing Alliance (CHWA). We check in on ourselves to ensure we are doing all we can to practice well with our team during the pandemic, returning to in-person workshops and provide an uplift in indivudal and group support for the team. 
  • Sept 2021 Anna attends ‘MOT for Musicians working in Challenging Settings’ funded by the Britten Pears Foundation at Snape Maltings. Returns with further ideas for her own practice, sharing experience with others across the country and offers ideas and support to PMZ team. 
  • Spring 2022 PMZ asked all staff to complete an anonymous wellbeing questionnaire. This is part of an ongoing deeper look at the wellbeing of both the team and participants. 
  • Sept 2022 – PMZ launches its offer of a paid-for EAP (Employee Assistance Programme) put in place in response to how we are doing post-pandemic, and to support people with the in-depth work and a commitment from PMZ to try and support its staff. In particular, provide access to services that the organisation cannot offer itself, isn’t qualified to provide, or out-of-hours support for people to access when they need it for general wellbeing / counselling etc.  
  • Autumn 2022 Supervision: Reviewing our current system. It remains valued and is essential to running the project, but some small changes may make it more effective and useful to people. For example, identifying different kinds of professional development. It will continue to be dynamic – shaped around the individual music leaders, but also what PMZ looks like and needs now.
  •  Continue to use ‘snapshot’ observations undertaken by another music leader or staff member as a critical friend, (as previously found to be useful), peer pick (training each other), to assess and feedback about quality and contribute to peer learning. 

Please note: Perhaps you’d be interested in creating a conversational blog for this with us here at PMZ?  Please contact Anna Batson (Creativty & Learning Director) if you think we could do some practice sharing or have a supportive chat from wherever you are. We’d love to hear from you! (anna@plymouthmusiczone.org.uk