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Sistema in Norwich Teen Sistema

by Marcus Patteson in Norwich, England, United Kingdom

Sistema in Norwich Teen Sistema
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Using music to change young lives, developing their confidence, resilience and aspiration by learning to play an instrument in an orchestra.

by Marcus Patteson in Norwich, England, United Kingdom

“Over the last 9 years you have allowed me to develop into a confident young adult. I know I had my moments, but through Sistema I have been able to experience concerts, perform and make amazing friends. I was encouraged to pursue my dreams. You all feel like a family to me and saying goodbye is very hard.” 


Sistema in Norwich uses music to engage, inspire and build social mobility amongst young people who most need support in realising their potential.  We provide young people growing up in some of the city’s most marginalised areas with the opportunity to expand their skills and achieve. 

We are raising funds to increase the number of instruments that we offer each week, thereby increasing our offer to young people and enabling more of them to take part in our Teen Sistema, which in turn means we can have more impact.  It also means that young people can continue with Sistema when they move from primary to secondary school.

“Sistema has helped my shy, self-critical daughter to develop a positive attitude to learning. School on its own often produces frustration and negativity ... She believes that she can go far, her confidence has increased, she feels valued she is inspired and she aspires. After Orchestra she comes home full of enthusiasm, ready for anything.”  (Feedback from a parent)

Need and Impact

Teenagers in Norwich are among the most economically deprived and socially disadvantaged in the UK. The city is a social mobility cold spot, falling within the 10% least mobile UK local council areas, meaning that these young people have lower life chances than teens in 90% of the rest of the UK.

Sistema in Norwich uses the experience of joyful, collective music making to create social impact, by giving young people the chance to learn an instrument and play in an orchestra or ensemble. For the last 9 years we’ve used this approach to build resilience and raise aspirations among thousands of 4-11 year olds from Norwich’s poorest estates. Our own evaluations, testimonials, and national research show that this approach improves mental health, improves attitude, raises aspirations and builds internal and external resilience. This in turn challenges entrenched attitudes and impacts on improve social mobility, spawning benefits for parents and the whole community. We have seen young people not only developing as musicians but going to university, getting better-paid jobs, being less reliant on the welfare state and becoming role models.

The Teen Sistema

The Teen Sistema enables young people to continue when they move from primary to secondary school.  This can be a difficult time for young people as they navigate the transition to secondary school, their teenage years, and the mounting pressures of GCSEs and A levels.  Long-term engagement is a key part of the impact of the work, as there are no quick fixes to these challenges.  Yet this age is also a time when their engagement in music and creativity blooms.

We offer weekly music sessions on Saturdays and after school during the week. These include instrumental lessons, ensemble rehearsals and general musical development, encompassing composition, music theory, improvisation and performance. Children receive over 3 hours of tuition each week, plus the opportunity to perform regularly. Our ambition is to complement the strings, woodwind and brass teaching we currently offer with percussion and piano tuition, as well as developing the support and advice we offer through a dedicated youth worker. 150 children are currently taking part.

We use a peer leader model in our delivery, to support young people to develop independence, a sense of responsibility, self-motivation, teaching and leadership skills. This starts with simple tasks, such as helping to set up rooms, and progresses to ensemble leadership and tutoring. This culture means that older and more able young people support the learning of their peers.

Involving parents increases impact; when they volunteer it helps our teachers and builds musical appreciation among adults who would otherwise not be exposed to music in this way. Witnessing their child’s progress also creates opportunities for virtuous circles of support between parent, teen and teacher.   Volunteer support for activities and events can be vital to us actually being able to run them.

What will we do with the money?

We want to develop a weekly piano Sistema session that will accommodate up to 20 children (two classes of up to 10 children).  The funding sought will pay all the costs of this session for a year (tutor fees, venue costs, instrument maintenance, administration, etc.).  It will also enable us to buy two more digital pianos, to ensure we have enough for the class.  This is a new area for us, so we will also be exploring the teaching of piano in a group, developing the teaching approach and training up a second tutor.  Taking out the instrument costs this represents a cost of £425/head for a minimum of 40 hours of teaching per child.  This will also mean we are starting to develop young people as accompanists for the wider programme.

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