Play for Progress: Music as Social Change

Poplar Union, Play for Progress, East London, Refugee Week 2018, Live Music
Poplar Union, Play for Progress, East London, Refugee Week 2018, Live Music

In the run-up to Refugee Week, we welcome Alyson Frazier and Anna MacDonald to tell us about Play for Progress – the London-based charity they founded which delivers therapeutic and educational music programmes for children who are victims of war. Anna is a Scottish singer, musician, writer and medical doctor who moved to London from Glasgow to pursue her creative professions, and Alyson is an esteemed flautist who has worked for some of the UK’s leading orchestras including the BBC Concert Orchestra.

Life as a Refugee

The complex emotions that those escaping conflict experience are inconceivable to any of us fortunate enough to have lived in safety. Imagine that you’re faced with the task of travelling on foot, thousands of miles to the UK. Imagine you’ve survived being abandoned in the Sahara by smugglers, you narrowly avoided drowning in the Mediterranean, you were held captive by a terrorist organisation and escaped unlawful detention—now imagine doing it alone…as a child.

Being a teenager is hard enough before you add the severe trauma of such a journey, or any of the countless obstacles they have to conquer once they arrive in the UK. Unaccompanied minor refugees find themselves alone in a strange (and presently hostile) country, without the use of their mother tongue, often struggling with PTSD and placed in foster care or youth hostels. Their entrance into education and safe social spaces is delayed or denied and the process of gaining asylum is arduous, lengthy, and constantly in flux and impossible to predict.

Music as a Tool for Social Change

Play for Progress delivers therapeutic and educational music programmes for young people impacted by conflict to help them avoid isolation and engage with, learn through, and explore their capabilities in music and the arts. Our weekly Croydon-based music programme is available to the hundreds of unaccompanied minor refugees and asylum seekers who are associated with the Refugee Council UK’s Children’s Section, and guarantees that these vulnerable young people can rely on a close-knit community of allies who use music as a tool for social change, self-expression, team building, and personal development.

Every student enrolled in our programme is given access to a curriculum of music workshops, instrumental lessons, external performance opportunities, mentorship and job training, creative arts therapy, our #AlliesInArt series, and group outings. PFP offers students ways to connect with the diverse and overwhelming city that is London, to enhance their language, leadership, team-building, and creative thinking skills, to release tensions, forge supportive friendships, build trust with consistent adults, and find respite in a safe space while developing their own creative potential. It is through running this programme and regularly supporting our allies in other refugee networks around the globe that we are actively working to strengthen the connections within and appreciation of our diverse global community.

The Next Step for Play for Progress

We are in the process of establishing a centre dedicated to creative education and the arts that will specifically be for use by unaccompanied child refugees and local vulnerable teen communities. The centre’s mission will be to combat their isolation and lack of access to education, as well as the continuing decline of the prioritisation of education and access to the arts that is sweeping the UK and causing a crisis in childhood, growth, socially conscious behaviour, creative thinking, and community integrity. This centre will unite the arts industry as a whole in solidarity with this vulnerable community, provide guidance for volunteers, and spawn a movement of cultural celebration and creation by bringing together music, theatre, physical art, creative writing, dance, social impact awareness, educational resources, and more. Let’s get cracking!

Full List of Refugee Week Performances

June 17 – 1:30 – V&A: Workshops and performances at the V&A to launch #RefugeeWeek2018

June 18 – 6pm – Poplar Union: Music & Poetry from Ruth Padel and Anna MacDonald

June 19 – 7pm – The Hospital Club: Maya Youssef in discussion w/ PFP about music and trauma

June 20 – 6pm – Poplar Union: Rookes Workshop & Performance

June 21 – 7pm – The Hospital Club: Panel on uniting the arts in solidarity w/ refugee communities

June 23 – 5pm – Poplar Union: Allies In Arts for Refugee Week

  • Play for Progress will be coming to Poplar Union next week with a trio of exciting performances across Refugee Week, with all funds raised going towards their continued work with refugees. Each event is an opportunity to engage with their work and all proceeds go to supporting their programme. Visit them at, on Facebook, Twitter, and Justgiving.