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Men with mental health struggles transformed through band

30 Dec 2023 5 minute read
Members of the band (L to R): Max Brookes, Ray Maylin, Anthony Jones and Mike Fulthorpe from Breathe Creative CIC. Pic: Vale of Glamorgan Council

Ted Peskett, local democracy reporter

A group of men from the Vale of Glamorgan struggling with their mental health say they have been transformed after playing in a newly-formed band.

The band, which was brought together by the Vale of Glamorgan Council’s community mental health support team, in partnership with a number of other individuals and agencies, includes people who have severe social anxiety.

Lead vocalist in the band, Max Brookes, would barely make eye contact with anyone in the group when the sessions first started, according to council community support worker Geri Goddard.

However, as the weeks went by, he and the rest of the band members saw major changes in themselves.

“This has helped me so much with my confidence,” said Max.

“I’ve always liked writing music, but it’s always been behind closed doors.”

The other members of the band include Anthony Jones on electric guitar and Ray Maylin on acoustic guitar.

They are also joined on stage by Mike Fulthorpe of Breathe Creative CIC which promotes mental wellbeing through creative activities.

Anxieties

The group recently played their first gig at Bar 96 on High Street, Barry.

Max said: “The reason I’m with the mental health team in the first place is that I find it so hard to dedicate myself to things that are a struggle and difficult because I’ve got all these anxieties and fears.

“I panic, say ‘no, I can’t’ and then just shut off.

“Coming to play the gig, I was anxious, but as soon as we start playing, I just zoned out and was okay again.

“If the band stops here, it’s fine, but I would like to continue as a group and maybe bring more people in.”

The owner of Cardiff Evolution Studio, Dave McDonald, let the band record a single, Hope, there without charge.

Geri , who was a big driving force behind the project, said: “When we started, we collected the guys and brought them to a practice room and nobody spoke, everyone had their heads down.

“Then Mike from Breathe Creative talked about house rules, a bit about confidentiality and then we all shared some of our personal experiences and got a feel for each other. We all understood and respected each other.

“At the start Max would sit there in the corner with his hood up, there was no eye contact and he certainly wouldn’t sing.

“Then week after week, you just saw it grow. You saw the confidence develop.

“Max’s mum would text me when he got home and say ‘what have you done with him?’ He woke up this morning so depressed and now he’s as happy as he’s been in a long time’.”

“It’s the same with Ray. He really wanted to come, as did Anthony. It was just a safe space for everyone to be in and be creative. I’ve definitely seen a big difference in all of them.”

Unwell

Anthony, who suffers with severe social anxiety, said he wasn’t comfortable for the first few sessions he went along to with the band.

He said: “It made me quite unwell for a day or two afterwards.

“But over the last 12 weeks, it’s become something I can go to and feel relaxed. It’s helped me massively in terms of just getting out and being around people I don’t know that well.”

As well as the support of key individuals, the project was also made possible through funding from The Arts Council of Wales and the National Lottery.

The aim now is to expand the programme and the council said it is already taking on the challenge of trying to secure more funding.

There has also been talk of opening up Bar 96, owned by James Bagnal, as a mental health space offering coffee and jam sessions.

James has assisted with the project by letting the band use his space for free.

Strengths

Operational manager for adult services at the council, Linda Woodley, said: “The team have tapped into people’s strengths to really help them grow and develop. They’ve improved their mental health while having a good time.

“We really want to keep that going. We will have to look for funding but given the outcomes we’ve seen and the positive change to people, I really hope that will be forthcoming.

“I’ve spoken to the band members and heard compliments that have come in from parents.

“They’ve said that the change they’ve witnessed during the time this group has been going has been greater than they’ve seen in years. They are so grateful for it.”


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