As part of Her Majesty the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022, UK towns will be granted city status for the first time in 10 years. I was delighted to attend the official launch of the Southend-on-Sea bid, which is being spear-headed by Music Man Project President, Sir David Amess MP. Sir David has tirelessly promoted our town for over two decades. I fully support him and Southend Borough Council with their application and I am proud to be the vice-chair of the Steering Committee.
Whilst there is a very English tendency to criticise your home town, I prefer to focus on everything Southend and its amazing people have done for me. I remember the schools, orchestras, choirs, musical festivals, competitions, amateur dramatic societies, theatres and concert venues that gave me the platform to build my career. I remember the teachers and musicians who instructed me and inspired me. I feel blessed to have benefitted from the same musical heritage that has produced some truly remarkable musicians over the past 100 years. In more recent decades, this classical tradition has been joined by a contemporary music scene through which Southend has produced renowned artists from the world of popular music. This town has always been a factory for creative talent and I have no doubt that Southend’s future generations will continue to build on this legacy over the next 100 years.
But I am most proud of my home town because of our record of inclusion and equality, particularly in relation to people with learning disabilities. Thanks to the work of local independent charities like Southend Mencap, people with disabilities are able to access a range of life-changing activities and opportunities that would have been totally unthinkable when Derby was awarded city status for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977. Back then, special school children were given broken equipment that mainstream schools had thrown away. Disabled adults were isolated in mental hospitals, treated like sick patients and given experimental drugs to keep them sedated. Southend was central to reforms which rescued this community from such a cruel medical model to community care, acceptance and opportunity.
Southend is also famously home to the multi award-winning ‘Music Man Project’, our unique international music education and performance service for people with learning disabilities. My charity has enabled musicians with learning disabilities to perform to members of the Royal Family, break a Guinness World Record, inform ground-breaking research at the Royal College of Music, appear in a TV advert and play the West End’s London Palladium and the iconic Royal Albert Hall – in the UK’s largest ever celebration of accessible music-making. Praised by Royalty, Prime Ministers and celebrities from the world of entertainment, the Music Man Project challenges disability discrimination and promotes equal opportunities for a once-forgotten society. Our original Southend service has been duplicated across the country, from Southampton to Scotland, and around the world in South Africa, India, the Philippines and Nepal where attitudes towards disability are very different to the UK. Southend is an international beacon of disability potential, the first ever global exporter of accessible Arts and Culture.
While I carry out my duties as UK Disability and Access Ambassador, and the Music Man Project continues to spread music around the world, I will always remember that Southend is where it all began. The “City by the Sea” serves its diverse community and shows the way for other towns and cities to follow.
As an example, next time you are in Liverpool, why not visit The Music Man Project Strawberry Field?
Or if you are in Kilmarnock, you can visit The Music Man Project Scotland.
And finally, Southend’s Music Man Project is connecting a unique global community through song. From The Music Man Project Southend to The Music Man Project Philippines…
Good luck Southend, and thank you!