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Key Changes: Music charity launches record label for artists with mental health problems

PUBLISHED: 14:35 01 February 2019 | UPDATED: 14:35 01 February 2019

Mad House EP by Ashley Weir, aka Stickzn15, is the first release from Key Changes Records.

Mad House EP by Ashley Weir, aka Stickzn15, is the first release from Key Changes Records.

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"The most rewarding part of this job is seeing people recover from serious mental health crises through the joy of music."

Peter Leigh, CEO of Key Changes music charity.Peter Leigh, CEO of Key Changes music charity.

The positive impact of music on our mental health is well documented, and you can clearly see the link between the two at Key Changes – a small charity housed on the top floor of the St Luke’s Community Centre.

Founded around 20 years ago at the Highgate Mental Health Centre, today Key Changes is a powerful instrument of change for people suffering with mental health issues.

The charity promises a “music-industry focused recovery programme” for patients afflicted with depression, anxiety, PTSD, bi-polar and schizophrenia, providing its people with access to industry professionals as well as the tools and support to express themselves. Last night (Thursday January 31), the charity reached a new milestone with the launch of its own label – Key Changes Records.

“People experiencing mental health issues can come to our studios and have quality time with industry producers,” says CEO Peter Leigh.

Islington resident Becca Sturley, 34, a Key Changes artist.Islington resident Becca Sturley, 34, a Key Changes artist.

“The whole aim is to create a professional-quality record. Doing this helps people to express themselves, and we then take the music out to the public by regularly hosting concerts and open-mic nights.

“A lot of the activity (around making a record) is actually quite therapeutic. Press shots can help build confidence, writing an artist biography encourages people to explore their life journey, and social media can teach new skills and help our people connect with the outside world, when they’ve often come from a place of complete social isolation.”

With around 10 producers, five part-time staff and a board of trustees, artists signed to Key Changes Records benefit from professional guidance in the studio, as well as marketing, business advice and help with problems including addiction and debt.

“The unique thing about our charity is that our team are all music industry professionals,” adds Leigh.

Roland Lawrence, otherwise known as Poetic Justice, is another of Key Changes' featured artists.Roland Lawrence, otherwise known as Poetic Justice, is another of Key Changes' featured artists.

“When they aren’t here, they are producing, performing, gigging; because of that we do have expertise in house to set things up. We had a bit of a head-start.

“The music industry is brutal. There are plenty of cases of people being pushed to their very limits by the pressures, the sort of anxiety that touring and promotional duties can place on people. There are loads of reasons that it can be a really difficult place.

“By providing a safe, supportive environment for an artist’s development journey, we’re hoping to address some of the failings of the industry.”

Before her occupational therapist referred her to Key Changes, 34-year-old Becca Sturley felt lost and unenthusiastic about her recovery from depression and anxiety.

“Instantly I felt like this was the place to be,” she says, “as everyone here was so supportive. It’s a lovely, calm and creative environment.

“I’d been writing and singing all my life, but didn’t have the confidence to do anything about it. Key Changes gave me that confidence as well as the room and support to do it. My mental health is so much better; I am a new person really.

“I like to tell stories about what I’ve been through and share songs that reach out to the audience with a mutual understanding. It’s so great when you see people singing back at you, coming up to you after and saying ‘I felt what you were singing about.’”

The charity receives support from Islington Council and Islington Clinical Commissioning Group, and the launch of its record label has been funded by Arts Council England. It works in partnership with the NHS and social care sector to offer help to 3,000 people a year.

Key Changes’ debut release is the Mad House EP, courtesy of Islington grime artist Ashley Weir (otherwise known as Stickzn15), who credits music for his recovery from bi-polar disorder.

Leigh adds: “What does recovery look like? We have had people on hospital wards who have been sectioned and lost everything, and yet six months later they’ve been on stage at the Cally Fest, performing an original song they wrote which has been professionally produced.

“The most rewarding part of this job is seeing people recover from serious mental health crises through the joy of music.

“We will take people who have been referred by doctors, hospital staff or by themselves – we’ll get to know them, find out what they want to achieve with their music, then confirm the sessions that we can provide. We never turn anyone away.”

Key Changes, St Luke’s Community Centre, 90 Central Street, EC1V 8AJ. More details here.

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