University research partner wins award for pioneering arts initiatives

A research project which focused on those who have problems communicating with words has been praised by the judges of a national award ceremony.

Beyond Words was led by the University of Plymouth’s Plymouth Institute of Education and Plymouth Music Zone (PMZ), and funded by the Arts Council England Research Grants programme.

Its success has been cited by a number of celebrity judges as they named PMZ the winner of the 2020 Hearts for the Arts Award for Best Arts Initiative.

The awards are organised by the National Campaign for the Arts, and aim to celebrate the unsung heroes of local authorities who are championing the arts, often within a climate of severe financial challenges.

Among the judges this year were actor and activist Julie Hesmondhalgh, famous for playing Hayley Cropper in Coronation Street, who said:

“The impact on Plymouth Music Zone’s users is plain to see from the figures and the testimonials, and the Beyond Words evaluation truly groundbreaking and innovative. Long may this fantastic organisation grow and thrive.”

The Beyond Words project ran from 2015 to 2017 and was the first to focus on post-verbal people and music, and one of the first to explore how music can have a positive effect on a wide range of health-related issues.

Its final report showed that tailored music sessions could be crucial in transforming the lives of millions of people whose speech is impacted by learning difficulties, strokes, dementia, brain damage and autism.

It also made a number of policy recommendations, including suggesting that policy makers should recognise post-verbal people as a neglected and vulnerable group that requires specific care and attention.

Since its conclusion, University researchers have continued to work with PMZ colleagues, running a workshop for social workers as part of the 2017 ESRC Festival of Social Science.

They have also published research articles, with a book – Lifelong Learning and Dementia: a post-human perspective – scheduled to be released in May 2020.

Professor of Education Jocey Quinn, Principal Investigator on the Beyond Words project, said:

“This is a fantastic achievement for everyone at Plymouth Music Zone. We are really proud of our long and fruitful research partnership with PMZ, especially through the Beyond Words project, and it is wonderful that the judges highlighted Beyond Words for special praise. Research that has a positive impact on some of the most marginalised people in society can also be groundbreaking in theory and methodology.”

Plymouth Music Zone’s Chief Executive, Debbie Geraghty, added:

“We’re so passionate about using music as a powerful way of bringing people together to create something that feels genuinely kind and inspiring – and to find a sense of community where people genuinely care about everyone else. Plymouth proves music can play a vital part in the bigger picture of a city in very wholehearted and meaningful ways – and in ways that create that all important sense of belonging we all need and deserve.”

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