Musical Mums - young mothers get musical in Harrogate

Mother and baby make music

Mother and baby make music - Credit: Archant

Singing together has helped to change the lives of teenage mothers. Sharon Canavar explains how

Whilst Harrogate might be recognised as ‘that posh place in the north’ as with any village, town or city there are often more complex problems underneath the surface. One of our longest standing music projects at the Harrogate International Festivals is Musical Mums, a weekly singing session for young mothers and their children in an area where high teenage pregnancy rates are often masked by Harrogate’s perceived prosperity.

Teenage pregnancy wasn’t something I ever really thought about or worried about in Harrogate until it happened to my sister 14 years ago. She was 17, and from the beginning there were issues with the school, worries about Health & Safety, the school’s reputation and when my beautiful niece was born, childcare challenges, and tears about how other mums often reacted to a young mum with such a huge responsibility.

All of this was in Harrogate with a supportive family in place to argue about why my sister could and should continue with her A-Levels, her part time job and be able to continue with her friends to make the most of the opportunities available to her and now her young daughter.

It was then that I started to research this issue and discovered that teenage mums are vulnerable to social isolation and exclusion, usually because all their friends are moving on and they have the responsibility of a child, often don’t have the funds to attend groups or activities and are also more at risk of post-natal depression. In addition, they’re likely to suffer from a lack of financial and social support with statistics showing they’re more likely to become single parents or bring up their child in poverty.

Try addressing all of this, plus the huge shock to the system of becoming a mum, and it was then I started to wonder how we at the Festivals could be doing more.

Harrogate International Festivals isn’t a health organisation but we are an arts charity that uses music to change lives. We know that music can make a difference to young people in so many ways. Knowing this, we created Musical Mums, a free singing session for young mums and their babies in a safe, welcoming environment held every single week throughout the year. These sessions offer the opportunity to create positive bonds between mum and baby, learn together in a fun environment and gain new skills and confidence to make new friends, all through making the most of the benefits of singing together.

We know that children exposed to music from a very early age show greater and more rapid development in a number of areas. Notably social skills, coordination and literacy and maths in later life, but there are benefits for the mums too; making new friends decreases feelings of isolation by providing a support network with other young mums, whilst the sessions create a stable and constant occurrence for participants who often experience a lack of structure and stability in their lives.

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Musical Mums has now been running for over eight years with our local partners and NYMAZ, a youth music development charity. Over 100 young mums and many more babies have regularly attended the sessions over the years. We’ve helped some mums get back into education or the workplace and others we support week to week with their parenting. We’re really proud of this programme but, as ever, we need funds to sustain this valuable work in the future and so, will continue to champion this area of our work as part of our 50th Festival celebrations over the next two years.n

Sharon Canavar is the chief executive of Harrogate International Festivals.