We couldn’t finish off the year without some sort of roundup of what went down in 2016, which suffice to say was A LOT. We basically lost our shizzle one way or another with everything that used to be expected and certain becoming the complete opposite. But there’s nothing like a good shake up to get you thinking, talking, and reassessing a few things. Let’s also not forget the number of high profile people who passed away. That has all seemed a bit relentless too.

In between the twists and turns and general global meltdown, many of us experienced our own personal losses and tragedies. For us it was losing our dear friend and one of our biggest champions, Ben Amure who died very suddenly and unexpectedly in the early hours of 24th June, the day the Brexit result came out. That was like our own mini-tsunami amidst the madness of a world that has since seemed to become more openly divided and unsettled. For us, losing Ben was yet another reminder that life is short. We really don’t know what’s going to happen or when our time is up so whatever you do, try and embrace the fear and use that energy to make connections and build something great, something positive, and something that will last.

On which note, one of the things that has stuck in my mind this year are the words of a Syrian artist who travelled to the Dakota pipeline. The purpose of his journey was to create a visual artistic response to the protest. Whilst being filmed he said, “Save what you can save.” What he meant was, we can all save something, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem. If we all try to do something, to save what we can, then we can’t help but make progress.

So what did we try and save this year and who helped us along the way?

We made a contribution to saving jazz and brought a whole lot of joy to people’s lives in the process. Through our monthly showcase events we celebrated the talents of 13 up and coming jazz musicians led by Kansas Smitty’s founder, Giacomo Smith to a regularly packed house at the Hospital Club. In June we highlighted our four year anniversary and all of our achievements to date at St James’ Studio. We mentored 6 up and coming musicians who collectively went on to release 2 EPs, a third album, as well as being awarded support from the Steve Reid Innovation Award and the City Music Foundation. We also announced Kansas Smitty’s as our Associate Artists and Reuben James as our first patron.

We worked towards saving the ever increasing issue of arts cuts in schools, which is unsurprisingly affecting children from disadvantaged backgrounds most. We are beyond shocked at the level of cuts that are taking place and the long term impact that this will have on the next generation. The future is creativity and entrepreneurialism. And yet in this country we are not preparing our children for a life in which they will undoubtedly need to be able to think imaginatively and inventively to create their own employment.

We are helping to combat this problem through our arts education programme, Achieve Your Greatness. This year we secured funding from BBC Children In Need and the Ernest Cook Trust to deliver our second pilot in our partnering secondary schools, Corelli College and Plumstead Manor. And wow, was it epic! 2 specially designed interactive jazz installations reaching over 3,000 students, 36 hours of delivery over 8 days, 6 workshop leaders specialising in jazz, acting, directing, creative writing and dance, 2 CPD opportunities for teachers, 46 students between 11 – 12 years old, 5 students from year 10 acting as mentors, 57% from Black And Minority Ethnic backgrounds, 46% Pupil Premiums, 15% with Special Educational Needs.

And that’s only part of it done. The follow up phase will be delivered in the forthcoming term. Check out all our photos and videos on our dedicated AYG Tumblr page HERE

We are particularly proud of the fact that our model of ‘recycling your greatness’ is beginning to take shape, with 4 of the musicians whom we have been mentoring now beginning to act as our workshop leaders, developing important skills as educators whilst feeding back into the Abram Wilson Foundation and inspiring young minds of the future. If there is one thing we have learned from 2016 it’s that no man or woman is an island and we can no longer afford to see ourselves in isolation. We have to recognise that we are part of a wider community, that we are all connected one way or another and that now more than ever we must take responsibility and give back in whatever way we can.

Along the way we launched our Trailblazing campaign asking our close family of supporters to help secure our future and give young people a voice by becoming Trailblazers. These wonderfully generous individuals have signed up as monthly supporters giving anywhere between £5 and £50 per month. In return they get access to exclusive invites, events and the next big thing in jazz as well as that warm fuzzy feeling of being part of an ever increasing community of people who want to make a difference. In total we raised nearly £8,000 from our Trailblazers this year and we are beyond indebted to them for their ongoing support. MILLIONS OF THANKS TO YOU!

If you’d like to join our jazz family by becoming a Trailblazer then you can sign up online HERE

And finally, we would not be here at all if it wasn’t for the tireless and incredible dedication of our team of freelancers and volunteers. Special shout-outs to our trustees Laura, Fred, Sharan, and Flo, our new five year Anniversary Committee, in particular, Anna S, Steve, Lucy, Becky, and Anna T, our Education Committee, the amazingly organised Emma, our social media guru Ellen, our incredible student intern Miriam, and our ‘not really sure what I would have done without you’ volunteer, Elisha.

2016, you have been tough, but we’re feeling mega proud of how much we’ve achieved despite how hard it’s been at times. We don’t imagine things will get any easier any time soon but we are feeling good about the awesome group of people who are supporting us in all kinds of way to achieve our greatness and that of our beneficiaries. Bring on 2017.

See you on the other side!

Till soon!

Jennie x