Folk Arts Oxford aims to promote folk and traditional dance, music and song in the Oxfordshire region. In particular we are interested in improving access for those who might face barriers to participation in the arts.

Through our funded project work: children in Headington have learned about local lad William Kimber, and the musical legacy he has left; a new band called Iris has been formed, who accompany all their songs with Makaton signing; children from mainstream and special schools in Oxfordshire have the chance to create music together, and perform on the main stage at Folk Weekend: Oxford.

Alongside our own projects and events, FAO works collaboratively with other local organisations, forging links and creating opportunities for folk artists to work in education and community projects, as well as showcase their talent in local events. 

I had a fantastic day at Mabel Prichard School as part of the Inclusive Folk project, running percussion workshops with Ollie and Jake. We worked with three groups in the morning and then saw them altogether for a short session after lunch. Each group was very different to the others but were all so inspiring in their own way. The children were very enthusiastic and the staff were just fab. I always prefer to work with an accompanying musician when running sessions in schools, but to be with two great musicians who were so easy to work with, was amazing!

Ollie and Jake played some tunes as the classes came into their sessions which gave everyone a feel for what was about to happen. We started off with a bit of spoon playing and all the groups really took to it. One of my highlights of the day was at the beginning of one of the sessions when we were playing spoons and singing 'She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain'. Some of the group instinctively jumped off their chairs and started started dancing round the room. And outside in the corridor was another pupil during pirouettes! 'Drunken Sailor' was also accompanied very enthusiastically, this time with drums, washboards, tambourines and triangles. And after that, we explored dynamic contrasts following a conductor - we discovered a few very willing conductors in the groups.

The children loved having a go at pushing the buttons on Ollie and Jake’s instruments, and seeing and hearing them close up. One of the boys was absolutely beside himself with excitement at the sound he’d just created! Some of children also put their arm inside the bottom of the djembe to feel the vibrations - I think some could have stayed there all day. We also created a watery type soundscape to create a slightly calmer atmosphere. The less able children were particularly fascinated by the rainsticks, ocean drums and other soft and mysterious sounds.

The afternoon session was more of a mass jam with lots of spoons, shakers and dancing, with a brief appearance from Willard the Jig Doll. It was so lovely to see children of different abilities joining in, in their own way and getting different things out of the sessions. We had some lovely feedback from one of the carers of a boy who had extremely limited mobility. She said that we may not have been able to tell, but she’d seen a fantastic response from him and that he’d loved it.

Seeing what the participants get out of these types of sessions is just really heart-warming. Some are playing and dancing with incredible energy; some are quietly listening in the background; some just love the feel of the instruments and the vibrations; and one preferred just to observe from the cupboard at the side of the room.

Thanks to Folk Arts Oxford and Mabel Prichard School for the opportunity, it's an incredible experience to be part of.