Music and Social Transformation Conference in Columbia

Flag of Columbia

The Irene Taylor Trust has been invited by the Fundación Nacional Batuta and the British Council to speak at an international conference on ‘Music and Social Transformation’ in Colombia this week.

Sara Lee at Koestler opening Our Artistic Director Sara, alongside Eileen, Sounding Out vocalist and Advisor to our board of trustees, have been asked to talk about their direct experiences of delivering and being supported by creative music interventions in the community. The conference is ‘an exchange with international organisations that promote supporting communities with social problems to develop and implement musical education programmes as an alternative for communities and people in environments with vulnerable conditions and high social risk.’

And here’s what they say about us… “Moreover, we will give voice to one of the most innovative experiences in the field of differential attention to the prison population in the United Kingdom: Music in Prisons.” A real privilege and another exciting event to help mark our 21st anniversary!

Sara is once again doubling as our international correspondent and will be sending us some of her famous postcards via Facebook (and re-posted below here).

#PostcardfromColombia – 04/10/16

Sara Columbia postcard 1


It  took us all a bit of time to realise this, but Bogota being 8,660 feet above sea level was the reason we were all finding it quite difficult to breathe today. It didn’t deter us from our sightseeing mission though, it’s a new city for most of us and the excitement gained from this cunningly masked the fact we’ve all been up for over 36 hours with no sleep and thus feel a bit wayward.

Today was a ‘recover from travel day’ before the seminar begins tomorrow and people are busy planning their presentations and discussions ready for an early start in the morning. Or that’s what they said, maybe they are sleeping.

It’s great to meet so many people from such interesting work backgrounds, Streetwise Opera and Drake Music from UK along with other amazing organisations such as Musicians Without Borders and Buskaid, and representatives from Paraguay, Chile, Rwanda, Brazil and Afghanistan. Very much looking forward to tomorrow – after a good night’s sleep.

#PostcardfromColumbia – 05/10/16

Postcard from columbia 2


Day one of the seminar was crammed with content and over 12 hours long by the time we arrived back at the hotel in the evening. The morning consisted of presentations from Ministers, the British Council and a number of organisations delivering work focused on social transformation through music. All were fascinating to listen to, including Streetwise Opera, the Para Orchestra, Crew Peligrosos and the quite incredible LandfillHarmonic. The afternoon mainly consisted of being paired with an organisation doing similar work, to exchange working practices and ideas.

I hit the jackpot with both the organisation and people I was paired with and I also landed myself a wonderful translator. At some points, it’s a bit like being the only one not in on a joke as they roar with laughter and you have no clue what has been said. After one such moment, as I was looked completely perplexed, the translator said, “don’t worry Sara, they have just told me they want to download your brain.”

My travelling companion, the inimitable Eileen, has been having the time of her life, disappearing off yesterday afternoon with Lloyd from the Para Orchestra to take part in a 3 hour session on body percussion. They returned later with bruised and aching limbs.

Today there are more presentations and another chance to meet your paired organisation to continue the chat started yesterday. There are also those wonderful conversations you have whilst walking to venues, eating food and over coffee. An artistically rich group of people to be sure.

#PostcardfromColumbia – 06/10/16

Postcard from Columbia 3


Today’s photo features Eileen, being filmed for a live TV programme. Quite early yesterday, Eileen got a call to ask if she would be willing to do an interview which saw us both led across the city to the HQ of Batuta where all the cameras were set up. It was quite nerve wracking in that there was no real time for her to prepare, just ‘hello, please sit here and we’ll ask you some questions about music, culture and peace’. Eileen was of course the consummate professional and got a massive hug from the interviewer after the cameras stopped rolling.

Yesterday also saw us evacuated from the conference building due to what was first described as ‘a tank exploding’, which was then changed to a water tank which was still quite strange as all we could smell was gas. Anyway, after about an hour all was clear, we were no wiser as to what had actually happened and we returned to the building. We were given free access to the museum whilst we waited which was an unexpected bonus.

As we were walking back to the hotel yesterday evening we got caught in the March for Peace, arranged after the vote in Colombia last weekend. Hard to estimate how many people took part but it was certainly many thousands, the majority dressed in white, carrying candles and walking in silence.

#Postcard from Columbia – 07/10/16

Postcard from Columbia 07.10.16


Today’s photo shows the wonderful Carien and Delia from Drake Music (alongside our Eileen).

We had a really great day yesterday, the panel discussions and presentations were excellent and extremely varied and there was a huge amount of interest generated around the work we do in prisons. Attending conferences such as this is of great value, not only do you get to spread knowledge and expertise about the organisation far and wide but you get to meet people who can help and support in some way, who offer something additional in partnership, such as the Director of the Institute of Musical Research at Royal Holloway University, just a few miles from us in London…

Today is Eileen’s day, she has her presentation prepared and rehearsed, and, as there won’t be a dry eye in the house, we have the tissues. Go Eileen!!!

#Postcard from Columbia 09/10/16

Eileen on stage


The first group of UK delegates is now safely back in UK with the second group en route, currently somewhere over the Atlantic. This time last week we were thinking about leaving and had no idea at all that less than a week later we’d have met so many people from amazing organisations and attended such high quality discussions and presentations.The highlight of the last day was the final seminar where a group of people shared their personal experiences of how music had impacted on their lives. Each story was immense but (and completely without bias of course…)

Eileen stole the show with hers. I took a quick look around as she was talking and all eyes were fixed on her. It would also be true to say that a good few of those eyes were somewhat teary as Eileen spoke with honesty and clarity about her life. There was a scrum for selfies/contact details/hugs at the end which was exactly has it should have been, an appreciation of how she had overcome the situation she’d found herself in and how music had played a key part in helping her do so. The music part we could all understand but the story that accompanied it was what took people’s breath away



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