Friday, 29 August 2014

Bestival - the Best Eco-Friendly Music Festival in the South - by Annys Brady

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Bestival aficionados are generally split into two groups – those who attend this fantastic music event each and every year, no matter the weather – and those who plan to go but haven’t quite managed to muster the motivation – yet. Well, the truth is the Bestival (or Besti as it’s more affectionately known) is arguably one of the most entertaining, eclectic music events of the summer – and it only takes one visit to get even the humblest of music lovers hooked.

So, what is it about the Besti that draws tens of thousands of visitors to the sunny Isle of Wight each September? It can’t be the promise of good weather – the Bestival site has been known to become a mud-bath on a fair few occasions. Could the attraction lie in the increasingly eco- friendly nature of the festival? Possibly - but it’s more likely the reason Bestival enthusiasts keep on coming back to this award winning festival time and again is simply due to the sheer variety of entertainment on offer. It isn’t just the headlining acts that make the Besti the best music festival in the south (though the organisers always take care to appeal to a myriad of musical tastes), it’s the ‘little’ touches that make the entire four day experience truly authentic – and (thankfully) far less commercial than its longer standing (and far bigger) counterparts.

Back in the day....

Ask anyone who went to Glastonbury in the late 80’s and early 90’s why it was such a brilliant music experience and the chances are they will tell you the same stories. A vibrant and welcoming atmosphere, diverse range of acts, manageable crowd sizes and a truly varied festival feel. Whilst Glasto is still considered one of the best festivals on offer in the UK, it is also one of the largest and, by way of reasoning, one of the most commercial. The Isle of Wight Bestival, however, is restricted by Island By-Laws which successfully limit the number of attendees at any one event. This is fantastic news for true music lovers – you get the full festival experience without having to strain your neck standing at the back of a 100,000 strong crowd (or queuing for three days to use the loo!). Add to this the numerous activities on offer (previous Bestival highlights have included everything from Zumba to stand-up comedy)and it’s little wonder that locals and ‘mainlanders’ alike trek to Robin Hill Country Park each September, safe in the knowledge that their Besti experience is going to be the best.


The Bestival is fast becoming one of the most eco-friendly music events of the year - but how exactly does this relate to you? Well, as a founding member of the Green Festival Alliance, the Bestival ethos is geared towards sustainability, simultaneously working to reduce (and highlight awareness of) our ‘carbon footprint’ by adopting energy saving practices. This awareness implicitly promotes a sense of social responsibility and encourages other festival organisers to look at ways of reducing the environmental impact associated with major music events. Put simply, adopting environmentally friendly practices via conservation of energy and reduction of carbon emissions helps to protect our planet – and who can argue with that?

Supporting Local Initiatives

Bestival founder Rob Da Bank also uses his music festival as a platform to support local initiatives and to highlight awareness of environmental topics. The ‘Bestival Bottle’ project is a fantastic educational programme which works in conjunction with the Footprint Trust to teach Island children about the importance of conserving water and recycling. This pioneering project has already helped countless school children understand a little more about the impact of their carbon footprint – and has arguably helped foster enthusiasm for the welfare of our globe in many young minds. Brilliant.

Other Eco-friendly Practices

Bestival organisers also highlight the use of public transport, encouraging as many visitors as possible to utilise the Island’s bus service or car share in a bid to reduce their carbon emissions. Likewise, the on-site Bestival shop sources 100% local produce, thereby reducing waste and supporting the local economy. Recycling is high on the agenda throughout the Bestival site itself, with recycling bags freely available in the campsite and incentives offered for return of bottles and cans to designated recycling hubs.

So, if you are off to the Bestival this summer, maybe you should take some time to consider how best you can reduce your carbon footprint, both at home and at play. After all, we only have one planet - and it is our job to look after it.

‘Take care of the earth and she will take care of you’ – Anonymous.


Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Life Makes Heroes: Maggie Doyne

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Located amongst the mountaintops and serene hills of Surkhet, Nepal resides the Kopilas. The flower buds who have blossomed by the love of many and the dream of one: Maggie Doyne. At eighteen years of age, faced with a decision to make as to whether or not attend further education. Maggie opted out, realising that attending college would have been too soon, and finding herself was the most vital task she had yet to complete. By joining an organisation called Leapnow, Maggie found herself on a gap year with her backpack, travelling through various countries, until she reached Nepal. There she met a young girl aged six, named Hima, who like many of the children in Nepal was made to work in order to support her herself and her family. Each day, Hima would break stones in the dry riverbed and sell them on, in order to make a living. Maggie took a keen interest in Hima, going to local head teachers and teachers, attempting to establish why children as young as six weren’t being educated. She found that the ultimate desire for all Nepali’s was to see their children educated, but earning a living prevented this. Upon realising this, Maggie took it upon herself to fund Hima through school, providing her with the uniform and a few school books. It was ultimately then, that Maggie knew she needed to make a change to the way the world worked.

The dream started to become more of a reality for Maggie when she collected her life savings of $5,000 and purchased a plot of land in Surkhet. Gaining help from the local community and major support from her hometown of Mendham, New Jersey, by 2008 Kopila Children’s Home had opened its front door.

Now currently home to 44 children aged between 3-14, the family is under the care, love and guardianship of Maggie and many aunties and uncles. It is paramount that the children in the Children’s Home realise that that is exactly where they are - Home.

In 2010, Doyne expanded her dreams by opening Kopila Valley School, home to over 350 students; it strives to provide an environment where children are able to develop mutual respect for one another, work together all the while becoming compassionate, jubilant and innovative individuals. Opening the school gates as early as 7am, Kopila Valley welcomes students who come from poor socioeconomic backgrounds: many lacking an access to education, due to gender or otherwise, many who are abandoned and to those who live in mud huts, not closing until 6pm later that same evening. Kopila Valley’s school program offers a diverse curriculum, including Maths, Nepali, Science, Computers and Social Studies, with each pupil being fluent in English.

Providing a Health Clinic and Women’s Centre, Maggie has shown no boundaries in the way she approaches change. The Women’s Centre has a range of classes that cater to self-confidence, parenting, human rights, health and stress management. As of Friday 15th August, Surkhet has experienced heavy rainfall and flooding, with 195 refugees taking shelter on Kopila Valley school grounds.

Maggie is always finding ways to give back to the community, who has given her so much.

What makes Maggie a true Life Hero is the humbleness she possess as an individual refusing to let anyone believe that it was anything other than teamwork that has allowed for all the possibilities to happen, stating “everything we’ve done, we’ve done together.” Described as having immense generosity, strength, compassion and always striving to care for and help anyone in need by one of her previous volunteers for Kopila Valley, it is apparent, that Maggie Doyne has touched the hearts of others, by being willing to be bold and follow her dreams.

It is true that many words can describe a hero. But for all the children of Kopila Valley it only takes two: Maggie Doyne.

“We have the power to create the world we want to see every day.” – Maggie Doyne

- by Nikkita Robert

“We have the power to create the world we want to see every day.” – Maggie Doyne


Monday, 18 August 2014

Tanzania and Masai culture: exploring sustainability by Christina Anagnostopoulos

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In July 2013 I had the fortune to travel to Tanzania: a 10 day trip concentrated in the north of the country, from Arusha to the Serengeti national park. Before embarking on a game park safari, we were lucky enough to experience and meet Masai people in their villages. The Masai number around 350,000 in Kenya and 200,000 in northern Tanzania, and hold tight to their unique customs, characterised primarily by nomadic settlements, a livelihood based on farming and herding, and the continuation of traditions such as colourful body piercings, decorations, and dances.

Traditional Masai dance at a local village, northern Tanzania

Delving a little further into Masai culture, we can discover how, as pastoral farmers they know that their environment is their host, as well as source of nutrition and wealth.

Living sustainably

The Masai are pastoral farmers, and as such, much of their wealth and well being are tied to their livestock. Mostly goats and cattle, these animals are the cornerstone of Masai culture. Indeed, a man’s worth is often derived from the quantity of cattle he owns, and they are often also used as dowry. A Masai’s livestock is more than just that - they are their primary source of food, income and social pride.

A Masai village and cattle in the sweeping hills of north Tanzania

A natural harmony

The Masai of East Africa have been living with and within nature for thousands of years. Being natives of the land they live with the mentality of mutual respect and necessity toward the earth, rather than taking it for granted. The land that the Masai now inhabit, known as Masai Community Land, is protected and stretches from Tanzania into Kenya, bordering, among others, the Serengeti natural park.

However, due to migration patterns and the lack of physical borders, the great wild animals of this park are not contained, consequently the Masai people at times share their habitat with the likes of wild elephants, wildebeest, and lions. It is a relationship that has existed among humans and animals for thousands of years, yet both have faced increasing threats from external changes in more recent history.

Primarily illegal poaching (for the wildlife), and the increased privatisation and capitalisation of land (for the Masai) have restricted their freedom and diminished their powers as the original inhabitants of this land.

Sustainable development

The Masai’s existence, prospering alongside rather than at the expense of their natural habitat, makes them a superb source of wisdom when it comes to sustainability in the east African grasslands. Pastoralists such as the Masai, for example, are known for adopting various sustainable strategies in their farming, including mobility, diversification, and herd flexibility. As such, the Masai and neighbouring Samburu have been praised for their sustainable approach in conservation and long-term farming in an arid habitat. The Samburu, for example, embrace conservation as a mechanism of development, a model that should serve as guidance for adopting a more sustainable future in the region.

The threats they face

Globalisation and rapid urbanisation in East Africa are the gravest ongoing current threat to the Masai and their pastoral lifestyle. Their protected land has slowly decreased to accommodate private farm and ranch enterprises, game parks, and towns, and many worry that Masai Community Land might not be a given for future generations. Another key issue is the huge flow of young people migrating to larger cities for their studies and looking for work. Although the Masai encourage their younger generation to spend a year away from their villages (a coming of age passage, with the hopes that they then wish to return by their own will), many never return, allured by the fast-paced promises of the cities. Furthermore, the Maa language of the Masai is often neglected and completely forgotten, especially as many young Masai leave their villages, and while local classes have been offered in efforts to recuperate it, the Maa language is slowly disappearing. This threat to the Masai heritage is tied back to the slow decline of the control they have over their protected land. Mary Sakuda, a Masai elder explains, “when we lose our land, we lose our language and then we lose our culture”.

A Masai mother with a small child wrapped on her back in a local village

Their philosophy

A Masai Prayer:

“Father-Mother Earth, We pray thee at sunrise and sunset, that you may not

abandon your sacred duty of sustaining our lives.

The water that quenches our thirst, the air that we breathe, the trees that

provide shade, and the animals that give us company, all make life real and

creation complete.

We the children of the Earth pray for wisdom, that we in turn may be good

custodians of these precious gifts to us and our unborn generations.

For if we fail to safeguard these resources, man's moral standing as the most

intelligent animal will be questionable.

Furthermore, if we fail Nature, we shall have failed ourselves and the

generations that come after us.

And judgement will be very harsh on us.”

~ Maasai Elder

Monday, 11 August 2014

The best organic festival products by Laurie King

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For this year’s festival season I am not going to make the same classic mistake as last time.

There I was, wearing hemp and eating a vegan cupcake on the grass when the sun came out. I pulled out my generic brand of sun lotion and smothered myself in it happily. When I offered it around I was surprised that my friends snubbed it and persuaded me to look at the label to see the multinational name that owned the brand and, more importantly, the plethora of scary chemical names that sounded like swear words.

I had, up to that point, considered myself an ethical consumer, trying to eat organic and healthily, reusing and recycling clothes. I had even pulled out a funny old hat from my Grandmother's cupboard for the festival which I am not sure would even be counted as vintage. However, when it came to cosmetics, I was a blissfully unaware of what ingredients were used. After that rejection, I looked at the other beauty products in my toiletry bag; my toothpaste, my lipstick, my deodorant, my moisturiser: I was horrified.

Many people are turning to organic cosmetics as they have figured that many traditional cosmetics contain harmful, carcinogenic ingredients. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has been active since 2004 and has funded much research which links different chemicals in cosmetics to cancer. It is also important to consider the effects of toothpaste that we spit out into the bushes at festivals or the ozone corroding CFCs in our spray deodorants and other products.

It all makes sense to me; why put something on your body that you wouldn’t put in your body? Organic ingredients are good for your skin and contain essential minerals. This year, my toiletry bag is ready to go full of healthy and happy products. I have considered both cost effectiveness and that each product does what is says on the tin (or no tin ☺). The best way to plan what to buy or make is to think, step-by-step, what I will need each day.

Generic music festival: 11am (ish!)

I wake up to the sounds of slow, relaxed footsteps, the sound of the first sound check, someone in the next tent still drinking from the night before: I will want to emerge from my tent fresh faced and smelling beautiful. I will put on some homemade deodorant first to fight off the odour. I found a great recipe on Wellness Mama’s blog which has loads of helpful hints for making your own products. This reduces the cost of organic cosmetics and feels really good! My deodorant is based on organic coconut oil, bicarb, arrowroot powder and tea tree oil and smells lovely and subtle.

Next, I will clean my teeth. I can do this in my tent using one of my LUSH toothy tabs . They are a ‘solid, waste-free, natural alternative to regular toothpaste’ reads the Lush catalogue. LUSH is a great company with ethical standards, totally natural ingredients and they support many charities and social enterprises too.

Once I have washed my face with a bar of Dr Bronner’s magic soap I need to apply sun lotion to make sure I don’t burn in this hot weather. Aloe Pura sun lotion was highly recommended, and not too expensive, with an SPF of 15 or 25.

Now I apply a little lipstick, naturally clashing with my mix match outfit. LUSH make beautiful vibrant colours - although Wellness Mama has great recipes too if you want to avoid the brands.

As for a few extras that I will use when I hit the shower block - Faith in Nature do organic shampoo and can be found in Oxfam. I am using Coconut oil as moisturiser which I love. Some people say that organic yoghurt is great for your skin and reduces acne, though those ten minutes I will have to wait before washing it off may upset the rest of the queue! Crunchy Betty has a blog all about making hair and beauty products from what is in your food cupboard which can help save on costs and avoids chemicals that can sneak their way in to even the more ethical brands.

The internet is full of useful tips that have helped me switch all of my beauty products to organic, without spending a significant amount. Now I feel that I am nourishing my body, not only with the food choices I make but with the beauty products I use. I will sip happily on my locally brewed ale at the festivals year, and won’t be scared to pull out my sun lotion or lipstick for a top up.


Tuesday, 5 August 2014

One down and one to go for Rio de Janeiro by Emma Willis

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After seven years of planning and 31 days of hosting, the most expensive football tournament in history is over. By the time the final accounting has been done, the bill is likely to exceed £80 million, more than three times the cost of hosting the same event in South Africa four years ago. Attendance at the tournament topped 3.4 million, the second highest figure in tournament history – but with the Rio de Janeiro Olympics looming, the economic advantages of hosting the World Cup are unlikely to reach the Brazilian community.

For those not entirely familiar with the preparations needed for the Olympic Games in comparison to the World Cup, some context; The World Cup is one competition over one month involving just under 750 footballers, the Olympics – dozens of events in two weeks with over 10,500 athletes, all who need accommodation alongside the 45,000 volunteers and around 21,000 media members from 200 participating nations. To top it all off, Rio de Janeiro was the site of only seven World Cup games, with generated broadcasting amounting to a few hundred hours, the Rio Olympics will be around 6,000. However, like the World Cup, there is potential to increase tourism and influence foreign investment, as well as provide temporary jobs for Rio's inhabitants.


Unfortunately the bill is going up quicker than the stadiums, it is thought the Olympics project is some 25-50% over budget, with the cost of the games currently standing at £93 million, a 23% increase from the original 2009 estimate.

Overruns and suspected corruption have so far added billions to the cost of the Olympics, money that undoubtedly would have been better spent on education or health care. Several projects that politicians promised would improve urban living standards in Brazil have been dismissed entirely, with many more delayed despite the extravagant spending. One commitment the government haven't failed to see through is the pacification programme which has supported the renovation of neighbourhoods in Rio de Janeiro and even encouraged the establishment of hotels and businesses in hillside favelas. The programme has significantly reduced the power of crime groups in Rio. The general aim for these gangs is to harass government forces but avoid direct confrontation which results in casualties within the group, meaning they are now fleeing when faced with soldiers and armoured vehicles as opposed to causing shootouts on civilian doorsteps.

While trying to avoid unnecessary fatalities in the favelas, the government have been criticised for the deaths caused by hurried preparations. At the beginning of July, a highway overpass in World Cup host city Belo Horiztone collapsed onto traffic below, killing two people, with a further eight construction workers dying while building stadiums for the World Cup. Brazilian officials are hoping to avoid such tragedy in the run up to the Olympics, however with the increased pressure of hosting a multi-sport competition the workforce are already pushed to their limits, with 3,000 men on 22 hour split shifts to ensure the 12 venues are ready. As part of its Olympic bid in 2009, Rio pledged to host "Green Games for a Blue Planet”, the city of 6.3 million promised to use clean energy, clear the city's clogged streets, preserve its natural spaces, and upgrade its favelas to more urbanized spaces with functioning utilities, public transportation, and other amenities. Officials have already admitted defeat on a promised 'legacy' project, saying that the 80% cleanup of the Guanabara Bay where discarded furniture, dog carcasses and human corpses are seen floating will not be possible, meaning the Olympic sailing competitions will have to be held in a less polluted part of the water outside the bay or at its entrance.

The decision to build the Olympic Park and nearby golf course in a wetlands area was also not a wise one. Small alligators have been spotted wandering around the golf course, and visitors have complained about swarming mosquitoes in the area and the neighbouring athletes village.

Though there were protests before and during the World Cup, the games were a success, fans were delighted (until the semi-finals that is) and Brazil enjoyed a large tourism boost. This has given Brazilian officials and the International Olympic Committee a dash of optimism that the first summer games to be held in South America may be a success, even if 10 of the 16 olympic venues are not scheduled to be completed until early 2016, with one of those – set to be holding seven of the events – being behind by two years. “If you need highways and airports, you should be able to build them without throwing a big, expensive party for the rest of the world". Sports economist Dennis Coates advises countries against bidding for worldwide events on the premise they will drive economic growth or spur building of infrastructure.

While there is very little charity going on to support the production of the Olympics, Rio de Janeiro's mayor will be offering free tickets to the 2016 Summer Olympics to make crowds more diverse, fans attending World Cup games didn't reflected the ethnic makeup of South America’s most populous country and tickets will be allocated to those earning the lowest wage to remedy this. One charity hoping its good work will pay off at the Rio Paralympic games is the Urece Sports and Culture for the Blind. Based in Rio de Janeiro the organisation – led by people with visual impairments - develops lessons, sports training, workshops and special projects for people of all ages with visual disabilities. Another volunteer run charity who will be contributing to the sporting legacy of Rio is International Volunteer HQ. Recognising that sports have become vital for Rio's lower income communities, the project aims to provide children with friendly competition in a safe and fun environment, assisted by coaches who work with the children teaching a mixture of familiar and unfamiliar activities. IVHQ also runs projects in Community Development, Teaching English and Working With Children, benefiting Rio in its entirety through the generosity of volunteers who realise that no one can make it through life without someone else's help.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Sankofa! festival review by Jafar Iqbal

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“I was not a hypocrite, with one real face and several false ones. I had several faces because I was young and didn't know who I was or wanted to be.” – Milan Kundera, The Joke

Take twelve young people. Give them a venue, a date and a brief. Throw in some professional practitioners, the odd workshop here and there, and bring it all together in six months with a generous helping of unshackled imagination.

What you end up with is the Sankofa! Festival, a three-day event which took place at Queen Mary’s University in East London. But this wasn’t just the climax of a six-month internship. No, what this festival represented, and demonstrated, was the culmination of art organisation Phakama’s near-twenty year vision, one that has spanned continents in it’s pursuit to produce art of the highest quality in the unlikeliest of places.

Phakama was set up in 1996 by the London International Festival of Theatre, in an arts exchange with the Johannesburg-based Sibikwa Community Theatre. Originally existing only as a partnership between the UK and South Africa, Phakama’s work has now spread to countries like India, Indonesia and Mozambique, strictly as a not-for-profit organisation. Their ethos is a simple one: using the creative arts to break down barriers for all young people and empowering them.

This is where the Spotlight paid internship scheme comes in. Aimed specifically at young people who are not in education, employment or training, Spotlight gives them that route into the arts and, like many of the young people involved in Sankofa!, their very first experience of it.

Fittingly, the performances during the festival echoed this feeling of stepping into the unknown. Sure, narratives ranged from cross-cultural love to fantastical journeys through purgatory, but the overarching theme was always of characters battling for what they believed they deserved. 'In The Ivory Tower', it was identity; the characters in ‘Dream. Cease. Repeat.’ craved freedom; and ‘Rivers Of Love’ was about the search for acceptance in a constantly-changing world.

You wouldn’t have to join too many dots to connect these stories to the lives of the Spotlight interns. For example, twenty-three year old Jamal Gordon has a background in graphic design from The University of Creative Arts. Like so many other young people in London today, though, he couldn’t find a job. Had he not come across Phakama’s Spotlight internship, he may still have been in that rut of unemployment and lack of direction, and the same could be said for the rest of the group. Phakama has given these young people the chance to gain some new skills in an industry always in need of fresh practitioners and new ideas.

What the Sankofa! festival also did, perhaps inadvertently, was provide a prime analogy for the experience of growing up. While certain aspects of the festival were almost flawless in their execution, there was also a lot of room for improvement in some cases. Whether due to the constraints of time and logistics, or the inexperience of the people involved, certain moments were glaringly flawed. This was a group of practitioners willing to throw stuff at the wall knowing that it might not all stick, and the fearlessness of those decisions was admirable. Whatever mistakes were made were mistakes that they will no doubt learn and grow from as a result, much in the same way that they’d learn from a failed job interview or lack lustre essay. It is that feeling of empowerment through trial and error, of accepting temporary setbacks for the greater good. Of growing as individuals and as part of something bigger.

But when things did stick, the festival produced some wonderful moments of theatre and performance art. Acting across the board was strong, and the technical aspects pretty much faultless. It all came together in the climactic show, Rivers Of Love, exploring the relationship between a white British guy and an Indian girl in 2014 London. A highly immersive performance, the show made use of live music and real-time social media, turning the audience from mere spectators to voyeurs, not an easy task. Again, it reiterates the team’s fearlessness in trying something a bit different, and pulling it off well here.

The biggest drawback of the festival, in the end, was that it only lasted three days. It fully deserved more time and bigger audiences. Where these twelve extremely talented interns go next remains to be seen, but there’s no doubting that there is a raw potential there which should be harnessed and utilised.

And finally, a big pat on the back needs to go Phakama, who have provided a platform for projects like Spotlight to succeed. As long as it continues to receive the support that it needs and deserves, it can only grow from strength to strength. It’s something to be hopeful for.

Sankofa can mean either the word in the Akan language of Ghana that translates in English to " reach back and get it" or the Asante Adinkra symbols of a bird with its head turned backwards taking an egg off its back, or of a stylised heart shape.

Photograph courtesy of Caroline Gervay


Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Sing while you're winning by Freya Morgan

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Last Wednesday, the world watched as giant Tunnocks teacakes danced, John Barrowman publicly kissed another man, and Scottie dogs were proudly marched around Celtic Park to mark the opening of the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

The entire spectacle was hugely entertaining, fun and was served up with a large slice of Scottish patriotism (hence “Nessie” the musical).

I, however, was too busy bouncing off the walls about the involvement of the National Youth Choir of Scotland, alongside Eric Whitacre and his Virtual Youth Choir, to notice anything else.

Having been a member of several of these ‘National Youth Fill-The-Gap’ as a child and teenager, I was painfully aware of the fact that many of these organisations go undiscovered by the vast majority of young people, many of whom have the talent and mindset to become an outstanding member. Many of these groups, whether it be the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland, choir, or Youth Music Theatre UK, provide young people across the United Kingdom with the opportunity to access a career that may otherwise be forgotten or abandoned, labelled as the stuff of childhood dreams.

Nevertheless, here they were! My compatriots! On the stage in front of the Queen, and Rod Stewart, and 100,000,000 viewers! I knew that this was their chance to prove that these organisations are worthwhile and provide a solid foundation for future prospective careers in the performing arts. For these teenagers to actually perform in such a prestigious setting, being conducted by Eric Whitacre, alongside the world-famous Virtual Youth Choir... they must have felt as high as the crane upon which John Barrowman was now dancing.

These organisations should be broadcast simply because they allow young people to be pushed beyond the boundaries of their day-to-day lives, to interact with professionals and ask questions, to learn more about the possibilities their future holds, and most importantly, to make friends. Without this sounding like a sob story, I didn’t have the greatest time at school, and music was my place to go where I felt safe and special. When I became part of the National Youth Choir and London Youth Choir, these courses became the highlight of my year because I had found a place where we were all united under the “Music Geek” banner that we soon became immensely proud of, just like the members of National Youth Choir of Scotland on that stage last Wednesday.

That, and the fact that we were performing with people like Sting’s guitarist in venues like the Royal Albert Hall. Every. Single. Course. It really was a teenage girl’s dream come true.

Unfortunately, chances are if a parent has heard of these organisations and feels that their child would be suited to attending one of its courses, they’ve probably written the entire experience off as too expensive, as an activity for the lucky children at £30,000-a-year schools to indulge in during their time off from horse-riding and lacrosse summer camps.

I can confidently say that this is not the case. Many of these groups are registered charities, and create bursaries through fundraising and sponsors. The National Youth Choir of Great Britain, for example, offers funding not only for the course itself, but also for any fees incurred when prospective applicants attend auditions.

These programmes allow for young people to access performance education like they’ve never seen before, while at the same time making life-long friends. The National Youth Choir of Scotland did us all a favour at the Commonwealth Opening Ceremony, by putting their name, and what they represent, to the general public. Now, all that we have to do is make what happened on that stage happen across the country, for every willing young individual.

Even the Queen smiled! If that’s not a blessing, I don’t know what is.