Refugees in Manchester

“Music therapy can provide opportunities for people to have their voice heard – this is a fundamental human need and one that many refugees arriving here after fleeing danger and turmoil in their own country feel they have lost, along with everything else,”

Toni Beardsall, Nordoff Robbins music therapist.

Toni works with refugees and asylum seekers at the Revive drop-in centre in Salford. Many of the refugees at the centre have been imprisoned or tortured in their home countries, and a lot of the women have experienced domestic violence, forced marriage, or female genital mutilation. It is not uncommon for people here to experience mental health difficulties, and many have suffered loss or trauma, and can feel a sense of isolation in a new and foreign place.

Through individual and group sessions, Toni uses music therapy to help to build the refugees’ confidence and self-esteem, by enabling them to explore, experiment and take risks through music that are acknowledged, valued and engaged with. Toni works with a combination of music from people’s home countries, alongside pop music they enjoy in the UK, and improvisation – where she supports individuals to develop their own ways of being musical.

Esther* is from a country in Southern Africa and her musical heritage is a strong force within her. She faces uncertainty in her life surrounding her health, when she will be able to return to her family and what the future will bring. She has little control over whether she will even be allowed to travel home, and life is a continual wait for news from the Home Office. But there is certainty in her voice as she sings – and she too can hear it when she and Toni listen back to their sessions.

No longer a lone voice, Esther’s experience of herself is increasingly confident when navigating new and untrodden melodic paths, not only supported by the music therapist’s voice, but constantly invited to explore and being subtly challenged to take risks. It is a different experience of herself, and one that highlights her own strength, both in voice and spirit. Steering her voice around Toni’s requires Esther to be in the present moment – a momentary relief from thinking about the past or the future, and in a space where she can focus on the support she encounters in music therapy. In music therapy, Esther can be adventurous, explorative, confident and physically strong. The music therapist can invite, challenge and nurture this strength. In music, Esther is well.

Abi Hill, Social Worker at Revive, said: “I’m really happy that we can offer music therapy. It breaks down language barriers, cultural barriers, and it’s a release from the everyday pressures that our service users have. Some have mental health problems, a lot of them are worried about their immigration status and asylum status, and just having that space to express themselves through music is lovely.

“It really helps some people to express what feelings and associated triggers they may have, and music therapy is another avenue for them to get out the negative trauma. I often see service users smiling when they come out, and I’ve seen families who are struggling coming to Toni with their children and doing a group session – it’s a positive experience for them, and the children love playing with the instruments.”

Toni added: “The experience I have had in my work at Revive has really given me an insight into the significance of the value of music therapy for this vulnerable group of people, and it has fuelled a passion for trying to raise awareness of this so that similar projects can be made possible.”

Revive is an independent community project, providing free practical support, services and advocacy for refugees and people seeking asylum, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexuality, disability, age or beliefs.

* Name changed for confidentiality purposes