Clare OatesWhen I’m asked to introduce myself I’m never quite sure what to write… it actually depends on who I am introducing myself to. See, I have increasing numbers of strings attached to my bow these days.

In the every-day, I am a Special Educational Needs specialist instructor, teaching autistic young people about the world of work and supporting them to develop their independence. I also like to play with steam engines for fun and am learning to be a railway fireman… but that’s not the point! I have spent time teaching English and learning to drum in Rwanda. I am a performing jazz saxophonist and I compose for small big bands. By way my studies I am now also a community musician in training.

This came from a passion I developed as an undergraduate at York St John University whilst studying Music and Education but the aspiration to work with those with additional needs actually stems from much further back. It actually goes back to my younger learning disabled sister and a cousin who, for a long time, struggled with speech and communication.

Clare Oates running a music workshop

I had always known that music had the potential to impact on someone’s life. I mean, how many people subconsciously tap along to a beat or hum a catchy tune. During my undergraduate studies I took the opportunity to investigate this further through my involvement with a singing and signing choir and later a dissertation looking at how music could aid the development of communication in non-communicative autistic children.

The Community Music course, by the nature of the topic, is very broad and we were given freedom to choose our specialism

Studying for the MA in Community Music seemed a natural progression from this – a chance to delve deeper into something that was of great interest to me. The Community Music course, by the nature of the topic, is very broad and we were given freedom to choose our specialism. My choice was to look further at music for health, wellbeing and communication; however I also knew that I didn’t want to limit myself to this.

Through the course of my studies I began to notice that an element of project management experience would help with any future Clare Oates playing saxprospects. This influenced my decision to seek out a placement that would allow me to develop these skills. Through contacts at a band I play in, I was offered the opportunity to work for their organisation carrying out some fundraising – a task that would help both me and the organisation. At a similar time I was working part time at an organisation that supports young adults with a learning difficulty to access mainstream social activities. Many people at the organisation asked about singing in a choir so I investigated the possibility of setting up an inclusive group for these people.

Both of these experiences showed me that establishing and funding projects is not always easy. It was never my intention to use experiences from my paid employment as part of my studies, but the information I was getting from speaking to those around me and the stories in the media suggested that funding was a hot topic. While my passion for helping disadvantaged groups remains, it was for this reason that I decided to peruse this topic for my dissertation.

Click here to read: “Monitor, evaluate, adapt, change and develop” The trials and tribulations of Community Arts in the current economic climate