Songwriting meets Nathan Timothy of The Songwriting Charity – an organisation that aims to transform young people’s lives through music
hanging the world, one song at a time. That’s not actually the motto of the Nathan Timothy Foundation, also known as The Songwriting Charity, but perhaps it should be. For the past two years, Nathan and his team have been going into UK schools and running songwriting workshops to tackle issues such as bullying and the environment.
The charity has its roots in an event Nathan, then working as a primary school teacher, helped to organise at the Charlton Athletic football ground back in 2004. It was a day of theatre, art and music workshops, and with one space left to fill and funds running out, Nathan – who in his spare time has always been a songwriter and played in bands – decided to step in and run a songwriting workshop himself.
“I went in with a track, got the kids to write some lyrics and something magical happened,” recalls Nathan. “By the end of the day, we had five songs and I realised what an impact this kind of thing could have.”
Inspired, Nathan left teaching in 2007 and launched a campaign called Bully Beat. “At first it was just me ringing up schools and offering to go in and run a workshop,” he says. “Between 2007-2011, I ran about 500 workshops… and it was through that I met John [Quinn, TSC’s Director Of Engagement], who was working with a charity called Beat Bullying.”
“We just want to get workshops in front of as many kids as possible”
Along with Director Of Programmes Ben O’Sullivan, the two set up The Songwriting Charity in 2011. “But the philosophy’s exactly the same,” says Nathan. “We just want to get workshops in front of as many kids as possible. Now we have a team of eight people out there delivering workshops – sometimes the school pays a small fee, sometimes it’s sponsored by other charities and NGOs. It’s hard work and it’s pretty hand-to-mouth, but it’s worth it, because we get to see what the kids get out of it.”
As well as the anti-bullying workshops, The Songwriting Charity also runs themed workshops around other issues. A 2012 ‘sports song marathon’ got the official Olympic seal of approval and saw some of the kids’ songs played at Olympic events, while this year they’re running Master Peace, a series of events organised in the memory of Nathan’s late sister, the culmination of which will see 10 peace anthems composed at the workshops showcased at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
The charity initially worked mostly with primary schools – “because that’s where my contacts were,” says Nathan – but now caters for both primary and secondary age groups, as well as with special needs pupils. Nathan explains how a typical day might unfold.
“When we go into a school, first of all we have to explain that we’re a songwriting group, because a lot of the kids think it’s going to be like Pop Idol or X-Factor, whereas actually it’s not about performing, it’s about the writing process, about writing and rewriting and trying again. Then a key thing is, we make sure every child gets involved – it’s a level playing field and they all have some input into the final song. We’re really a well-being charity: it’s about getting the kids to push themselves into areas they haven’t been before, and achieve something and feel good about themselves.
“By the end of the day, we’ll record a song which the kids can then keep and say, ‘We did that’. Have I met any future pop stars? I meet them on a daily basis! You meet kids who do something they never thought they could do, and that’s magical to see. We get to work with some fantastic kids, and I get to work with most fantastic people too. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
To find out more about The Songwriting Charity, to hear some of the songs recorded at their workshops, or if you’re a teacher and want to enquire about booking them to visit your school, visit their website or find them on Facebook. We should stress that they’re a registered charity and all of their teamworkers carry CRB certification.