Bringing self worth, purpose and joy to York’s ‘invisible’ young people

Bec Horner

Bec Horner

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Bringing self worth, purpose and joy to York’s ‘invisible’ young people

Meeting Dan Axon of Upfaders was a bit strange for me. He is a passionate, humble, creative, switched-on guy providing life-changing opportunities to many of York’s most vulnerable young adults, and yet I had never heard of him, nor his organisation.

Granted, I don’t know everyone in York that is doing good stuff, but even if I don’t know them I usually have heard of them. Not a bit of it with Dan.

How come he is so under the radar? I wondered.

It was Siobhan, Guildhall’s Local Area Coordinator, who wrote to Joe and I at Social Vision to tell us about Dan. She just said ‘You should meet Dan, he is doing really good stuff.’ So I arranged a visit.

Dan works out of a space off Lowther Street in the Groves. An old Gatehouse that is now a funky, spacious studio room with a big squashy sofa in it, loads of decks, drums, guitars, computers and ‘techy’ stuff. For someone with an interest in creating music, it feels a bit like being a kid in a sweet shop.

So what does Dan do there?

Since 2006 Dan has been focusing on improving the wellbeing, increasing the confidence and bringing joy into the lives of many of York’s most vulnerable young people.

He works closely in partnership with many of York’s Care organisations; York CAMHS (Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services), Refugee Action York, Choose2Youth, The Island, SASH (Safe and Secure Housing), SNAPPY (Special Needs and Play Provision York), IDAS (Independent and Domestic Abuse Service), Kyra – over 30 in total – who refer young people to him.

He has provided hundreds of York’s 16 – 25 year olds with a lifeline through music. People who are not at all well and have found themselves almost out-of-reach of services.

Whatever kind of music they might want to create, he can facilitate it.

It is a long term process, resulting over time in the young people finding some purpose and self satisfaction that has been missing in their lives.

It is not an easy process, nor is it straight forward.

Many people who come are extremely unwell, unable to socialise and in a very bad place mentally, some times highly anxious or depressed. They often come initially with mental health professionals, occupational therapists for example, and are still inpatients in hospital. They don’t really know what they want to do at this stage.

Dan Axon, Upfaders

Every first session is hard; it is a time for Dan to create a rapport with the young person, help them feel less anxious, make them feel a little more comfortable and gently tease out from them what their interests are.

They may not know what they want to do with it, but it is music that enables these young people to start to open up.

And open up they do. Slowly, but surely.

Over the longer term, the young people continue to come to the studio on a regular basis and Dan starts the process of not only helping them find the music that will interest them, but gently ensuring they learn life skills along the way – being on time, being responsible – building them up to help them progress, get along in life and potentially gain employment.

People gradually find what they want to do musically; DJing, MCing, song writing, guitar playing, rock, sampling, for example – you name it Dan can facilitate it – and then the want to do it, the need to do it, takes over. The studio becomes their place, their work and they know what they want to do and are determined to do it.

What happens as the weeks goes on, in almost every person Dan has worked with, is eventually they start owning the sessions. Music liberates them.

Once someone finds their creative side, they start finding the rest of life worthwhile too. They find their independence, they find their self worth, they start feeling optimistic and their anxiety lessens. There is a transformation in an individual that is wonderful to witness.

So, in a nutshell, Upfaders is a safe place in York where young, vulnerable people can transform their lives through music.

Sounds good to me.

And why had I not heard of Dan before?

Probably because he has his head down doing his stuff. He isn’t into shouting about what he does, he is all about helping, supporting and encouraging young vulnerable people, and making a genuine difference to their lives.

On talking to Mental Health professionals since I met Dan, I now recognise that they all know him. They all hold him in high esteem. They all know what a difference he is making. They also know he doesn’t really shout about it.

And now I know that too.

Find out all you need to know about Upfaders, and who they work in partnership with here.


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