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Sooth players; How HOOT uses music jams to improve.

T causes joy, tears and impromptu dance-offs.

IAmong its many other virtues, music is a powerful weapon in combating mental health problems.

It is something that Hudders-field's HOOT is all too aware of, using music to change the lives of those who walk through its doors.

Set up in 2002 as a charitable company, it has improved the health and wellbeing of thousands of people by encouraging them to realise their musical talents.

The happy energy that playing a musical instrument brings can be experienced outside the building Hoot inhabits, on the corner of Bates Mill on Milford Street.

It's a sense that becomes allencompassing once inside, where around a dozen adults of different ages can be found enthusiastically beating drums, bowls and ringing bells.

They are there to take part in one of the many music sessions offered five days a week, which bring those with mental health issues together with others in a supportive and friendly environment.

They are staged to build people's confidence, which may have been shattered after a bad mental health episode, help them make new friends and focus on a positive activity.

For one of the participants, Adam Hinchliffe, who has bipolar disorder, the group has been a lifeline.

He started out as a music maker and has progressed to being a volunteer to help others at the same time as himself.

Adam, 29, said: "I've been involved for three years and it has helped me a lot.

"It's a great way for me to meet people in a similar situation to my own and has given me something to focus on, which takes away a lot of my stress.

"When I have tough times, playing music gives me the positivity I need and gets out some of the frustration I experience."

His positive experience tallies with scientific research into the benefits of listening and playing music, such as a report published in Nature Neuroscience, which found that the chemical linked with making people happy, Dopamine, was released at moments of peak enjoyment.

Singing, string sessions and digital music making are just a few of the other sessions that HOOT's team of 17 part-time staff put on to encourage these positive feelings in its members. Phil Russell, HOOT's founder and chief executive, explained what encouraged him to set it up.

He said: "I'd been working in charities and research and I wanted to try find a good way of working with people with mental health needs and who also had the potential to be creative.

"On top of that, I wanted to create something that would help de-stigmatise mental health, because my view is that everyone has mental health needs at some point in their life and we need to be more open about them.

"We are all human beings who have struggles sometimes and one thing that can help is expressing oneself through the arts - it links the creative self with the physical self, thereby helping us become more in tune with ourselves.

"We offer HOOT to everyone, whether they have a mental health issue or if they just want to improve their own health and wellbeing, to create a strong and open community and it's working really well so far."

Since it set up, HOOT has continued to grow in popularity and last year worked with over 11,000 people.

More recently, it has started to work with those with dementia, put on music festivals and branched out into other art forms, such as film making, digital design and visual arts.

Phil said: "From starting out in Red Brick Mill in Batley we've just grown and moved here six years ago. I didn't think HOOT would ever get this big. "Last year over 11,000 people joined our sessions and I think what we do helps people exercise their imaginations positively.

"Our aim is that people don't use our service long-term. We hope that they will gain enough confi-dence and skills to join another music or arts group in the community.

"Some people have even used it as a stepping stone to doing something on a more professional basis. "Now, one of our big aims is to reach out to more people and get them to join in with what we do.

"This year we're trying to develop more programmes across the community, such as in hospices and have just joined together with creative arts organisation Artists in Mind so we can offer more to people together. In doing so we hope to integrate more music into community life, to show how focusing on creative achievements over problems can make all the difference to how one feels."


Hoot creative arts music | group enjoying a jam at Bates Mill, Milford Street, Hudders-field Below: Jess Baker leads the open music group 030315HHOOT SIMON MORLEY
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Apr 24, 2015
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