“We decided to put a smile on people’s faces.”

Patrick McKay founded the St Michael & All Angels Steel Orchestra (SMA3SO) in north London to support young people aged 8-25 in his area. The ensemble uses the power of music to bring people together. They have taken part in Big Ideas projects including The Last Post, Living Memory, The Unremembered: World War One’s Army of Workers and Remember RAF100. This is his Lockdown Lookback:

“Here in Stonebridge and Harlesden, we’re in the epicentre of Coronavirus for London. Our young people have personally experienced death in a way which was unprecedented. There have been hospitalisations and sadly for some families there have been the worst outcome. It has been very difficult.

From the outset, our first concern was the mental health and well being of our young people. I am a Mental Health First Aider trainer. Knowing and understanding how serious the situation was, we set up a WhatsApp group for our young people from the start of the lockdown.

We took care of the safeguarding protocols, and created a regular contact point for all the young people. We set up zoom for regular meetings and created a virtual youth club with up to 70 members. Sadly, some members had to leave the area very abruptly when the breadwinner has died from Covid-19. That has been really difficult. There’s been a lot of uncertainty and some young people have fallen off the radar. That is a hard reality everyone has had to adjust to.

The most important thing was to keep in touch with the group and them with each other; they came up with different initiatives for the Youth Group. One was to plant a tree from seed. We used fruits we had eaten – growing them in water bottles with the tops cut off – mangoes and avocados are the most popular, we also have some cherry and lemon trees growing.

Taking that forward into 2021, we are thinking about environment awareness and reclaiming waste ground in the neighbourhood. Our plan is to plant an orchard and herb garden. In fact, I’ve just taken delivery of a set of litter pickers for the group to do community clean-ups!

We decided to put a smile on people’s faces. Achieving this through positive community engagement and social action.

During the summer we did community performances in Harlesden & Stonebridge and took part in the First Notting Hill Virtual Carnival 2020.

Ensuring the mental health of our young people is in a good state was our priority for 2020 –.we’re going to build from that foundation in 2021.”