Coronavirus:Tales of Resilience #3

Janine Irons of Tomorrow's Warriors discusses facing the future in the lockdown

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Janine Irons MBE of Tomorrow's Warriors

Tomorrow’s Warriors, a music development organisation and charity for young musicians specialising in jazz, has been punching well above its weight for more than 29 years, but this hasn't spared it from taking a sucker punch and being knocked sideways by the Covid-19 lockdown.

The impact has been immediate on our young people’s music education and development, our music leaders who teach, our associate artists, our staff and freelancers, and all those who help to sustain our wonderful, but fragile jazz ecosystem.

The lockdown has forced the suspension of our year-round award-winning Learn & Train programme at Southbank Centre, stealing from our talented cohort innumerable opportunities to learn, play and grow together at a critical moment in their development cycle. We've also lost 73 live concerts and gigs between April and September alone, with the potential for more to disappear.

With them has gone the opportunity for funding and ticket income that would have contributed to our programmes and the day-to-day operations of the organisation. Funders cannot release project-based funding for activities that are no longer happening and, in some cases, major funders have already closed their doors to new applicants.

Lockdown and social distancing measures have scuppered our ability to ramp up our events programme to help us fundraise for our joyous 30th Anniversary celebrations in 2021.

To give you some background, Gary Crosby OBE and I co-founded Tomorrow’s Warriors almost three decades ago when there was no home for young, diverse British jazz musicians to learn their craft and hone their talent and skills, no organisation or institution that understood their needs, no support to develop homegrown talent, no place to learn through experimentation or be mentored by those who went before.

Today, the UK Jazz scene is in rude health, our programme has engaged with over 10,000 young people aged 11-25 from all backgrounds, with a primary focus on Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority and females. Some of the hottest names in jazz, such as Moses Boyd, Nubya Garcia, Cassie Kinoshi and Nérija, Femi Koleoso and Ezra Collective, Shabaka Hutchings and Sons Of Kemet, Binker Golding, Eska, Zara McFarlane, Denys Baptiste, Soweto Kinch, Cherise Adams-Burnett, and so many more are tearing up the scene in the UK, US and around the world – ALL of these names came through the Tomorrow’s Warriors programme.

We know how important it is to provide stability at times of great uncertainty, but it is equally important to adapt quickly and be agile to the changing circumstances facing the whole of the music sector.

We moved swiftly to take our weekly learning programme into the digital sphere with virtual sessions that have ensured our Warriors have access to their music mentors and the TW team throughout the lockdown period.

Although a huge challenge, the lockdown has fueled fresh and smarter thinking, as we seek new and innovative ways to engage with our young people remotely through digital platforms. The results have been phenomenal, and since the lockdown we have provided over 400 learning opportunities to young people.

The need and demand for virtual learning is heightened in these times and we now plan to develop digital resources, livestreams and other content for our new virtual education hub.

This will enrich the virtual learning experience for all concerned, and enable us to share content and other opportunities with the wider community. We are also focussed on continuing to provide performance opportunities to all the musicians with whom we engage. Performance is a key part of a musician’s growth and the lifeblood of careers and incomes. Therefore, looking at how live events, even social-distanced ones, can resume in some way post-lockdown is vital.

Music, arts and culture are ever more important and valued by society in times of crisis, never more so than now. Yet ironically, with covid-19 robbing us of vital revenue streams, and industry-wide concern as to when or how we will be able to fully resume live performances, it will be music, arts and culture that will be hit the hardest and take the longest to recover.  So it’s ever more important to think about solutions, the future of live music is a key part of the sector’s recovery.

When we emerge from lockdown, we want to be ready to greet our community with a host of new opportunities for musicians and audiences to come together and feel once again the thrill, the sheer energy and unbound spirit of the live jazz experience. This is our focus and we’re excited to work with our partners to achieve this.

Janine Irons MBE

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