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Connie in rehearsal with Jack Drum Arts

One young musician, Connie, explains how the arts – specifically Jack Drum Arts –  opened a door to friendship, confidence and positive coping strategies.

After years of struggling with a brutal eating disorder, things came to a head for 21-year-old Connie when she was hospitalised last December.

She spent four months at West Park Hospital, and credits much of her recovery to her friends at Jack Drum Arts – a local social enterprise that runs workshops, courses, theatre groups, music groups and outdoor events so young people have the opportunity to access arts and culture.

Connie first came across Jack Drum Arts back in 2017, when her eating disorder caused her to leave her sixth form education. Durham Works put Connie in touch with Jack Drum, and she got involved with a fashion show event and some of their music sessions before moving south to live with her then-partner.

When the relationship became controlling and abusive, Connie knew where to turn, and moved back to the north before calling Helen, who founded Jack Drum.

Second family for Connie

Connie said: “They have always been there for me. They are like my second family because I haven’t got a strong family. My mum is great, but she’s not the mum I needed when I was growing up and I have spent time in care.

“Even when I was living in the south they would message and keep in touch and ask how I was doing.

“I moved back in 2019 and the first thing I did was give Helen a ring.

“A friend I’d made through the first show invited me to come and listen to the youth band and see what it was all about. The minute I walked in they put a bass guitar in my hands and three weeks later we had our first gig.

“We turn up every week and write our own songs. We start with a word of the week and turn it into something. The secret to my creativity is that I have a Twix just before I go in and that seems to do the trick.

“This is definitely my happy place.”

Focusing on the future

Ultimately, the band proved key in Connie’s recovery when she was hospitalised over the winter. When she given a pass to leave hospital once a week, she chose to use that time to attend the band’s sessions.

She said: “The band really helped me to get better and became my focus. I knew that if I lost weight I wouldn’t be allowed to go. They’re not judgemental and they support you. Some people judge or say the wrong things but they treat me as an individual. I would like to do more with Jack Drum, once I’m settled in my recovery.

“My nutrition now is much better now which means I can think better and learn faster.

Connie’s confidence has grown so much that she now has her own YouTube channel – where she speaks frankly about mental health, make up and what not to say to someone who has an eating disorder. Her videos are an attempt to reach out to people like her and show that recovery is possible.

In one video, Connie explains why making music with her friends at Jack Drum Arts has been such a game changer.

“Playing music and writing songs – getting my emotions out onto paper and turning it into something beautiful – it has changed my life. I used to struggle with understanding my emotions and coping with difficult feelings I was going through but playing music was a good, positive outlet because I has so many negative coping strategies.”

Now her message is one of support for others.

“If I’d seen someone like me getting better that would have helped me. I’d like to do that for someone else.”

County Durham Community Foundation

*Since 1999 County Durham Community Foundation has supported Jack Drum Arts with more than £158,000 in funding through our supporters and fundholders.

As well as supporting young people to access the arts in a meaningful way, the social enterprise provides a huge amount of pastoral care.

A 2019 grant for £5,000 through the Foundation, from the EDF Energy Langley Wind Farm Community Benefits Fund, supported the Transitions project – wrap around care for young people like Connie, addressing issues such as bereavement, bullying, relationships, sex and wellbeing.

(3) Good Health and Wellbeing (4) Quality Education (10) Reduced Inequalities (16) Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

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