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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, Covid-19, Covid-19 Recovery Strategy, Health and Social Care (Winter Planning), Environment Bill, Urgent Question, Covid-19 Regulations (Scrutiny Protocol), Decision Time, Big Noise Programme (Wester Hailes), Correction


Big Noise Programme (Wester Hailes)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Liam McArthur)

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-00554, in the name of Gordon MacDonald, on the big noise programme in Wester Hailes. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. Members who wish to speak in the debate should press their request-to-speak buttons.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament commends Sistema Scotland, an award-winning music education charity, on launching a major new music project in spring 2022 in Edinburgh’s Wester Hailes; notes that the programme aims to transform the lives of hundreds of children growing up in the area; understands that the Big Noise community orchestra will gradually be created by the project, which aims to reach more than 400 participants in its first year, and will eventually involve all ages from babies to school-leavers; recognises that the charity targets disadvantaged parts of Scotland for intensive long-term programmes offering youngsters up to four after-school sessions of intervention and support a week during term time, and up to four days each week during the spring, summer, and autumn holidays until they leave school; notes that the project will be working in partnership with the City of Edinburgh Council, and with Clovenstone, Canal View, and Sighthill Primary School and Nursery, and intends to also work alongside local charities and community groups to bring additional support and value to Wester Hailes; appreciates that Big Noise has a long-standing track record of delivering high-quality music education and social change to communities that helps children improve their concentration and language skills, enhance their problem solving and decision making, increase their self-esteem and creativity, and develop strong friendships and support networks, and notes Sistema Scotland’s belief that all children and young people have great skills, talents and potential, and that it has never been more important to think and act creatively to ensure that children across Scotland are given the opportunities and support that they deserve.


Gordon MacDonald (Edinburgh Pentlands) (SNP)

It is with great pleasure that I welcome the announcement that Sistema Scotland’s big noise project will open next spring in the Wester Hailes area of my constituency. I thank colleagues from across the chamber for supporting my motion and enabling the debate to take place.

The Parliament is not yet open to the public due to the on-going pandemic, but I am aware that many of the young people who enjoy being part of the big noise orchestra are watching at home along with their tutors, volunteers and staff. I welcome them to the Scottish Parliament, albeit on a virtual basis via Holyrood television.

Sistema Scotland is a national charity. It was established in 2007 and launched the first big noise programme in the Raploch area of Stirling in 2008. The charity is on a mission to create permanent social change in some of the most deprived communities in Scotland.

The big noise orchestra aims to change lives through the medium of music by fostering confidence, discipline, teamwork, pride and aspiration in the children and young people who take part. We all want Scotland’s young people to reach their full potential and to lead successful and fulfilled lives. Sistema Scotland provides nurturing support so that they can do so.

A briefing from Sistema Scotland explains:

“The big noise programmes give children and young people invaluable life skills and experiences. Big noise provides a place of safety and wellbeing and a nurturing community in which children are supported to realise their full potential. Through their participation in the programme, the children develop confidence and learn to work together and be kind to each other. They build resilience, pride and aspiration and are supported to lead successful and fulfilled lives.

The programme works intensively with the children and young people, and inclusively with families and the broader community, to achieve permanent social change. Key to this are the long-term, trusting relationships which the children develop with big noise staff musicians. The unique design of the big noise programme allows this relationship to develop based on consistent daily contact over many years, free at the point of delivery, with the musicians acting not only as educators, but also as compassionate mentors and inspirational role models, supporting positive behaviours and life choices.”

The Glasgow Centre for Population Health study of the existing big noise projects found that, in relation to addressing health inequalities, the

“evidence is clear that the types of impacts big noise is achieving at present act upon important determinants of health and wellbeing in adulthood. Because big noise is targeted to disadvantaged communities, it therefore has the potential to reduce health inequalities in later life. This evaluation also includes an economic analysis which concludes with the long-term projection that for every £1 spent on big noise delivery; around £9 of social benefit is generated.”

Another benefit of the big noise programme is that young people have had the opportunity to take part in a variety of high-profile performances. Those have ranged from the big concert that was staged in 2012 to mark the opening of the Olympics to a performance in 2019 as part of the Edinburgh international festival with the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles, which is another project that supports, nurtures and inspires young people through music. Incidentally, those performances were led by world-famous Venezuelan conductor and patron of big noise, Gustavo Dudamel.

The big noise programme is already established in Stirling, Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen. Prior to the pandemic, 2,800 children and young people were taking part. The new Edinburgh big noise orchestra will be the fifth to be established in Scotland over the past 14 years. Establishing the big noise programme in Wester Hailes will require an investment of £2.6 million over the first five years, and the good news is that the charity has already raised 60 per cent of the funding required. Sistema Scotland and the City of Edinburgh Council are in discussions about funding beyond the initial five years and what in-kind support the council could provide at present, including office space, practice halls and instrument storage.

It is estimated that the investment in the Wester Hailes community will benefit about 500 children and young people. Since 2012, the Scottish Government has invested £4.8 million in the charity and its contribution in 2021-22 represents 18 per cent of Sistema Scotland’s funding.

Discussions have already taken place with the headteachers of Canal View, Clovenstone and Sighthill primary schools to begin the programme from spring 2022, and the after-school club will begin in early autumn 2022. Big noise Wester Hailes will work initially with children in primaries 1 and 2. Over the course of its first year, the programme will expand to reach all nursery to primary 3-age children.

Big noise will grow year on year. A child in the big noise programme, once it is established, will move from baby and carer classes to nursery sessions, and then they will take part in orchestra initiation involving a percussion band and a paper orchestra before moving into the primary 3 string orchestra. Children can then opt to join the after-school orchestra, which involves rehearsing intensively up to three afternoons per week during school terms and attending holiday clubs for eight weeks of the year. There is no charge for the tuition, instruments, healthy snacks, trips or T-shirts.

The programme is an incredible opportunity not only for children and young people across Wester Hailes but for the local community as a whole. Through its big noise programme, Sistema Scotland has an outstanding record of delivering positive outcomes for participants, including increased confidence, better school attendance and encouraging and supporting aspiration. Those are just a few of the programme’s benefits since it began in 2008.

The programme has a fantastic track record in improving lives, and I have no doubt that big noise Wester Hailes will prove to be a great opportunity for children and young people across the local area. I wish the staff, tutors and volunteers of Sistema Scotland well as they embark on their newest project in my Edinburgh Pentlands constituency, and I look forward to my invitation to the first Wester Hailes big noise orchestra concert.


Michelle Thomson (Falkirk East) (SNP)

I thank Gordon MacDonald for securing this debate to celebrate a new big noise programme in Wester Hailes. I put on record that I am a graduate of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, a former musician and the convener of the cross-party group on music.

Given that start in life, many people would ask how I came to be an MSP. Music had a key role; its power is encapsulated simply by one of Sistema’s board members, Kenny McGhee, who describes it as “transformative and life affirming”. That is my experience.

My early years were not as they seemed from the outside. I found it hard to make sense of the adult world. I did not make friends easily. As the American poet Maya Angelou put it:

“Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.”

I was not unique.

As an adult, I now know that the intensity of my musical experience helped to create the complex neural networks that have opened multiple doors to me throughout my career. The creativity that it fostered benefited me and is increasingly sought after in the world of work today.

There is increasing evidence that the detrimental effects of trauma in children, which affect attention, memory, processing speed and so on, can be alleviated by participation in music. My recollections are that the self-quietening that music required and the setting aside of emotional turmoil that was needed to make sense of the patterns, structure and sounds moved me forward, as did taking the risk of trying. I became part of a team. I became more confident and started to expand my social network. It is arguable that the resilience that I have as an adult can be traced back to my learning to be heard through music—not so much a big noise, I concede, but certainly a mezzo squawk, especially on the clarinet.

Before Sistema, Wester Hailes had already produced the world-famous saxophonist Tommy Smith. Who knows how many more such musicians are out there? Sistema understands the complex needs of the 2,800 children who are involved today and the many more in Wester Hailes who will come through the system.

Music has a great tradition as an enabler in Scotland. For many years, it appeared that the former Bellarmine secondary school in Pollok provided more undergraduates for the RCS than anywhere else. It appeared that nearly every guitarist came from St David’s Roman Catholic high school in Dalkeith. Every child had access to free musical tuition, and I am thankful that that has been restored by the Scottish Government, in addition to the big noise programme.

The health and wellbeing benefits of music in every facet of society are so pronounced that there is a case for setting aside, just for music, a small percentage of multiple budgets that are allocated in this Parliament, so that there are budgets for music not just in education but in health and social care, our justice system and so on. Perhaps that relates to the figures that Gordon MacDonald quoted about every £1 spent generating £9 of benefit.

I simply say: well done, Sistema; you are transformative and life affirming.


Sue Webber (Lothian) (Con)

As we heard from my local colleague Gordon MacDonald, the big noise programme in Wester Hailes is a fantastic initiative. I thank him for bringing this members’ business debate to the chamber.

Wester Hailes is a residential area in the south-west of Edinburgh, which is home to about 10,000 people. As a child, I lived in the adjacent neighbourhood—I still do—and when I was growing up I used many of the services that were available for sport, leisure and retail. That all sounds grand but what it means is that I played badminton at the local high school and loved going to Presto with my mum, so that I could go on the escalator.

Back then, there was a strong sense of community across Wester Hailes, as there is now. However, the reality is that the area is one of the most deprived parts of the city and it has many complex issues. So much money has been spent on that part of Edinburgh and nothing seems to have broken through.

Despite that, Wester Hailes is a melting pot of great initiatives, ideas and people who are key to initiating and driving through positive physical and social change. I am keen to welcome anything more that can be done that can be a catalyst for change.

I share the sentiments that Benny Higgins, chairman of Sistema Scotland, expressed when he said:

“We also know that many of Scotland’s communities face long-standing inequalities and challenges that make it extremely difficult for children to achieve their hopes, ambitions and dreams ... Our charity is committed to ensuring that more children and communities across Scotland are able to take part in Big Noise and I am delighted that Wester Hailes will be the home of the next Big Noise programme.”

I am delighted, too.

My colleague Douglas Lumsden will speak about his experiences with the big noise programme in Aberdeen and the big difference that the programme has made to Torry.

The programme will work in partnership with the City of Edinburgh Council and with the primary and nursery schools at Clovenstone, Canal View and Sighthill. I am delighted that many schools will take part in the programme.

Independent evaluation of the big noise model by the Glasgow Centre for Population Health has consistently observed positive impacts on the big noise participants across the different centres. We heard much of that background from Mr MacDonald. The centre’s findings note that participants have increased their confidence, discipline, academic skills, happiness, sense of belonging and fulfilment. I hope that, like Mr MacDonald, they also have great clarinet skills and are not like me, as I have none of that genetic material.

It is for those reasons, as well as for the positive contributions and commitments from colleagues across the chamber, that I am delighted that a new big noise programme will begin in Wester Hailes in spring 2022. I cannot wait to watch the positive impact that it will have on so many young people in my local area.


Audrey Nicoll (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)

I congratulate Gordon MacDonald on bringing the motion to the chamber. I am delighted to speak in a debate celebrating big noise Wester Hailes. I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests, which shows that I am a councillor in the Torry/Ferryhill ward of Aberdeen. Torry is the home of big noise Torry.

We have heard about the pivotal role that Sistema Scotland plays in delivering big noise, from Aberdeen in the north, to Dundee, Stirling, Glasgow and, of course, Edinburgh early next year. Sistema Scotland believes that music and nurturing relationships play a critical role in inspiring individuals and communities. Within that, big noise recognises the impact of poverty and inequality on opportunities for children and young people to develop self-esteem, confidence and friendships, all of which are key components to them realising their ambitions and aspirations for the future.

In 2015, big noise Torry was born. Funded by Aberdeen City Council and many local partners, it has transformed the lives of many local children and young people through music. I pay tribute to Jim Kiddie, a former local Torry councillor who, like so many others, worked tirelessly to make big noise Torry happen. The programme now supports over 600 children and young people, working directly with Walker Road and Tullos primary and nursery schools. Incredibly, big noise Torry reached a milestone last August when its oldest participants started secondary school in Lochside academy.

Throughout the pandemic, big noise Torry has worked closely with local schools to maintain the wellbeing of children and families and ensure continuity of learning. During the first lockdown, big noise Torry went virtual, delivering numerous online music lessons. Such was the demand for lessons that its delivery extended beyond primary 1 to 3 and went all the way up to primary 7. During the second lockdown, the strength of the partnerships between local primary schools and big noise enabled musicians to become key workers, supporting educational delivery and wellbeing support for vulnerable children.

Meanwhile, the team continued to play a leading role in digital development and was the first big noise centre to use Facebook live during the first lockdown. It subsequently supported other centres during big noise birthday week. Alongside the Wednesday wee ones videos, big noise Torry continues to have weekly Facebook live broadcasts for participants and community members. Lorna Carruthers has recently joined big noise Torry in the role of head of centre, bringing a wealth of experience and knowledge that will ensure that big noise Torry goes from strength to strength.

The 2019 evaluation of big noise undertaken by the Glasgow Centre for Population Health reported consistent positive impacts on participants’ lives and recognised that, at the heart of big noise is a quality, meaningful and trusted relationship between musicians and participants. Big noise musicians are educators and mentors and can become role models. It is through those types of relationships that people change lives.

I welcome the inclusion of Sistema Scotland and similar initiatives in the Deputy First Minister’s statement on the Covid recovery strategy earlier this afternoon as important strategies supporting the wellbeing of children. I wish big noise Wester Hailes the very best of luck and I cannot wait to watch its first online music performance.


Michael Marra (North East Scotland) (Lab)

I welcome the debate and Gordon MacDonald’s achievement in securing it.

I have had significant involvement with big noise Douglas in Dundee, and I declare an interest as the secretary of Optimistic Sound, which is the charity that was founded almost a decade ago to deliver the big noise project to Dundee in memory of my late uncle. I want to put on the record my recognition of Chris van der Kuyl’s leadership of that charity and to pay tribute to Peggy Marra, Clare Brennan, Donald Gordon, Michael Craig, Derek Thomson, Jane Richardson, Jennie Paterson and Jenny Marra for an extraordinary effort in raising in excess of £1 million to bring the project to Dundee. Through their support, the Gannochy Trust, the Northwood Charitable Trust and many more have backed not just the big noise vision, but a proven model for improving lives in communities in Scotland. I have had the great pleasure of witnessing on many occasions the work that is done in Claypotts Castle and St Pius primary schools in the Douglas community in Dundee.

Gordon MacDonald gave a very full exposition of the project that is about to be established in Wester Hailes. The model has been proven in Douglas, Torry, Govanhill and the Raploch, where it started. The Wester Hailes project represents a long-term commitment to the children of that part of Edinburgh, just as the projects in Dundee, Aberdeen, Glasgow and Stirling are long-term commitments to the children in the relevant parts of those cities. With that commitment to the children in those communities, we are saying, “Without you, we are smaller. You are essential. Without you, we are all weakened. You are equal. Without you, our light is dimmed. You are extraordinary.” The personal relationships of big noise staff, which are long term, enduring and committed, tell those children that they are worthy of attention and care from their community, their family and themselves.

That message cannot be told through the mundane. It is a promise that must be sung, played and performed. The music of the big noise orchestra builds teamwork, self-esteem, concentration, creativity and discipline, but so does football, basketball, chess, coding or drama. It is the intensity of the long-term nature of the big noise project that sets it apart, along with the fact that it is a community endeavour, in which carrying instruments to school becomes the norm rather than the exception, and it is part of how the community sees itself. The stories that I have heard from Raploch over the years about how the community has changed its perception of itself through the big noise Raploch project pay testament to that.

None of this comes cheap, nor should it. For more than a decade, the budgets of local authorities have been decimated. In many places, only the ersatz veneer of a statutory minimum remains in place. Proactive youth work for children has been swept away in many places across Scotland. It was the “nice to have”—the roses rather than the bread—and, for that reason, it has been lost. When people have challenged the big noise project and called it expensive, I have told them that it is a proven project that delivers. People have asked why a particular area has been picked when there is so much need, at a time of soaring child poverty, when institutions are in retreat, and when we have a Government that has, at times, convinced itself that better is make believe. With all that, it would take the wisdom of Solomon to answer, “Why here?”, “Why Wester Hailes?”, “Why Torry?” or “Why Douglas?” So, let us say, “This where it starts.”

Dundee City Council committed unanimously across all parties to take on the cost of big noise Douglas from Optimistic Sound at the end of this year. That long-term commitment to this intensive model is absolutely vital. The scale of the budget pressures is such that the Scottish Government must do more to ensure that the commitment endures. I hope that, after the debate, the cabinet secretary will write to the members who participated in it to tell us how the Government intends to deepen its current commitment to the big noise project. I saw that Fiona Hyslop was here. As a minister, she had a long-standing commitment to the project, which was always greatly welcome. As the project grows and attempts to reach more people, it requires greater commitment from the Government.

I pay tribute to all the young musicians of the big noise family, to the outstanding leadership of Nicola Killean and to Richard Holloway, who conceived the big noise vision and has longed for many years to see it established in his city of Edinburgh. I say to Richard that nothing counts but lifetimes. His life of service has counted; he has lived it well. Let it be measured in the thousands of young people who know that they are essential, equal and extraordinary.


Jenni Minto (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)

I thank my colleague Gordon MacDonald for bringing this debate to Parliament.

Confucius said:

“If one should desire to know whether a kingdom is well governed, if its morals are good or bad, the quality of its music will furnish the answer.”

Parliament’s opening ceremony at the weekend showcased the fantastic symphony of music that Scotland is creating just now. Orin Simpson on flute and the guitarist Seoras Chlad from the national centre of excellence in traditional music got our feet tapping, and Musicians in Exile were worthy ambassadors for the way in which music brings friendship and understanding across cultures. BBC Radio Scotland’s young traditional musician of the year, Michael Biggins, played “Ae Fond Kiss” by Robert Burns and “Kirn Street”, which he composed. The feast of music was rounded off by the National Youth Choir of Scotland singing “We Hold The Future”.

I had the privilege of working with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra for nearly 10 years. As a failed clarinettist in Fife Youth Orchestra, I relished the opportunity to work with musicians from backstage as opposed to being on the stage. BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra players were involved when Sistema Scotland’s first big noise orchestra was established in Raploch in the mid-2000s. They buddied up with kids and joined them regularly for visits, lessons and performances. I asked one of my friends, Iain Crawford, who is a double bassist for the BBC SSO, what drew him to become a buddy with Raploch’s big noise orchestra. He reflected what Michelle Thomson spoke about. He said that music was his safe space when he was growing up: it was where he learned to work with others and where he forged friendships. He also got a feeling of self-worth through the exhilaration of performance. He wanted to share with children his experience and his knowledge of what playing a musical instrument had given him.

In 2011, big noise Raploch played a side-by-side concert at Glasgow city halls with its BBC SSO buddies. They played a medley of classical tunes. The atmosphere, the playing and the applause were fantastic. What a memory to have. As one of the young players said, it was their chance to play with players of the BBC SSO, so they could be like them when they grew up.

That outreach work still happens. The joy of music is shared with children throughout Scotland. In fact, this afternoon, 20 BBC SSO players are in Campbeltown grammar school in Argyll and Bute, teaching and playing bite-size excerpts from classical music pieces, and encouraging more than 200 schoolkids to connect with music.

The 2019 “People change lives” report, which Gordon MacDonald referred to, was on

“Consolidating five years of evaluation learning from Sistema Scotland’s Big Noise centres in Stirling, Glasgow & Aberdeen”.

A 16-year-old participant from Raploch said:

“Big Noise has had an impact in my life and has pushed me to see many open opportunities in and out of school ... I was so shy, now I’m an outgoing person by watching them teach and the way they treat us which has made me a much more confident person ... Big Noise has made me want to do volunteering and working with kids ... hopefully coming to volunteer here will keep me in music as if I wasn’t it would be a massive hole in my personality.”

That is an amazing and fantastic achievement, and Wester Hailes children and families have that to look forward to. Like colleagues, I am looking forward to seeing people perform. Who knows? Someone might follow in the footsteps of Ralph Tartaglia, who grew up in Wester Hailes and now plays the viola for the Ulster Orchestra.

On Saturday, the chamber was filled with great Scottish music. Let us ensure that all Scots are brought up with music in their hearts.


Douglas Lumsden (North East Scotland) (Con)

I thank Gordon MacDonald for bringing this debate to Parliament. I am sure that he will forgive me for not speaking about the big noise project at Wester Hailes, but instead sharing the experience of big noise Torry in Aberdeen, which is my home town. I hope that sharing my experience of that project will highlight its benefits and the difference that it can make to people’s lives.

I want to start with a confession. Just over four years ago, when I became a councillor, I had no idea what big noise Torry was. I was told by a fellow new councillor that it was music classes for kids. I was the convener of the finance committee at the time, and it was maybe seen as a potential saving. That all changed when I visited big noise Torry.

The big noise programme is not music lessons for kids; it is a social inclusion programme primarily for children but also for their families. Yes, the children learn how to play musical instruments, but there is much more to it than that. It is about kids who might not have taken any interest in anything before suddenly becoming interested in something. It is about kids who might not have taken any pride in anything that they have done before suddenly becoming proud of what they are achieving. It is about kids who might not have owned anything before suddenly having their own violin or cello that they cherish and look after. It is about parents who might not know any other parents in a school going to a concert and mixing with others. It is about bringing communities together and inclusion. As we have heard, it is about giving confidence to kids who had no self-confidence. I experienced that at first hand during my visits to big noise Torry.

As has been mentioned, an evaluation report was carried out on big noise Torry in June 2017, and it makes for very good reading. Like Jenni Minto, I found that the experiences that children and parents fed into the report were my favourite part. One parent said:

“My son is so funny—when we see someone from Big Noise, he always shouts ‘hello’ to them. He’s really proud that he’s in an orchestra, he was telling everyone over the Christmas holidays. He’s more open now, not just wanting to be on his own all the time.”

Another parent said:

“It’s nice seeing something give her confidence. Confidence with other people but for herself as well. She knows she has a talent and that’s really good for her. She’s not just in front of the telly all the time now.”

The report describes the impact on one pupil, which highlights the programme’s worth. It says:

“Big Noise is described by his teacher and musician as providing Scott with a sense of purpose in school, and a feeling of belonging as a part of the team. Without going into detail, it is felt that Scott is a child who is at risk of being caught up in negative behaviours outwith school, particularly as he gets older. The routine, structure and stability of the after-school programme appear to provide a positive diversionary activity outwith school hours. It also gives him a chance to channel his energies positively. Perhaps most importantly it gives him an opportunity to develop skills and confidence and to be able to demonstrate that he is good at something and for this to be recognised by his teachers, family and peers.”

I wish the big noise project at Wester Hailes all the best. I am sure that it will be a huge success and will change lives in the local communities for the better. As a Parliament, we do not always agree, but on this good news story, I am sure that we can. As Michael Marra said, local authorities face enormous budget pressures, but we need to do everything that we can to defend and protect such projects.

As we can see from the progress that Scott has made, big noise is the ultimate early intervention programme, which gives children hope, improves attainment and sets them on the right path in life. I encourage all members to visit a big noise project if they can, so that they can see for themselves the smiley faces and the impact that the projects have on communities.


Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

I am pleased to be speaking in this important and uplifting debate, and I thank my colleague Gordon MacDonald for bringing it to the chamber.

As we have heard from the fantastic speeches across the chamber, music is vital to wellbeing and confidence, particularly for children and young people. I first heard of Sistema Scotland when it was set up in Raploch, in Stirling, in 2008. I was blown away by its ethos and purpose of building on children’s natural potential and abilities by enhancing self-esteem and unlocking each individual’s dreams and ambitions. The charity reduces harmful inequality and the poverty attainment gap. Importantly, the activities are great fun for everyone in the community and bring families together. More than 2,800 children now benefit from big noise projects throughout Scotland, which is utterly fantastic.

Every new initiative that is set up by the charity is, in my view, a bonus, and I am delighted that Wester Hailes will shortly be able to benefit from the great initiative. The big noise programme has been evaluated by the Glasgow Centre for Population Health since 2013, and a wide range of positive impacts have been evidenced. It is, of course, entirely in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

I am delighted that the big noise programme focuses on early years intervention. It begins by working with children at nursery and in primary 1 and 2, with them gradually building on core skills such as listening, concentration, rhythm, rhyme and teamwork while learning to play an instrument in a group. We all know how much children love music. I know of a young girl with learning difficulties who lights up when she hears music—instinctively, she feels happy and wants to sing and dance.

Typically, a big noise child receives up to four after-school sessions of intervention and support a week during term time, and up to four days each week during spring, summer and autumn holidays, until they leave school.

All eligible children are actively encouraged to participate, and the big noise teams work in partnership with children and families to overcome any barriers to attendance. There is a non-exclusion policy, and teams are trained in positive behaviour techniques, elements of child development and psychology and trauma-aware practice.

Even the dreaded pandemic has not silenced the big noise. Throughout 2020-21, Sistema Scotland used whatever ways were possible under the restrictions. Those ranged from delivering thousands of one-to-one online lessons to working closely with education and local authority partners to deliver Covid-safe in-school lessons, often providing additional support to schools by offering a greater number of lessons to a greater number of pupils than pre-pandemic.

Musicians act as educators, mentors and role models, supporting positive behaviours and life choices. They provide emotional and practical support and are inspirational. Young people open up to them and many say that they feel they can tell them anything, which is crucial for good mental health.

Sistema Scotland’s funding is based on a blended model of public sector investment coupled with significant private sector support. The Scottish Government started supporting Sistema Scotland’s work in 2012 and in the past nine years it has invested more than £4 million. Every pound of that investment has been worth it in so many ways. Music is an international language. There are no barriers to listening to and enjoying music.

Now, thanks to Sistema Scotland, there are no barriers to participating, learning an instrument, and enjoying the lifelong benefits from such an inspirational early learning initiative.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

It should now fall to me to call on the cabinet secretary to respond to the debate, but having been absent from the chamber, it will be difficult for him to do so. As well as apologising to the chamber, cabinet secretary, I encourage you to look at the debate and write to each of the members in response to their speeches. I encourage members who have participated to raise any specific points as interventions. I will allow the cabinet secretary as long as necessary to accommodate them.


The Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture (Angus Robertson)

That is kind, Presiding Officer. I apologise to fellow members of the Parliament for my absence at the beginning of the debate and you, Presiding Officer, as convener of the meeting.

I thank Gordon MacDonald for securing this member’s business debate on the inspiring work of Sistema Scotland as it expands its big noise programme to Wester Hailes. I commend the warm contributions that we have heard from across the chamber. It is so nice to see cross-party consensus on such a project.

The Scottish Government is proud to have been providing funding to Sistema Scotland since 2020. [Angus Robertson has corrected this contribution. See end of report.] We are also proud to have supported its growth from the first project in Raploch to the new big noise projects in Govanhill, Torry, Douglas and now Wester Hailes. Speaking as somebody who benefited from music tuition at primary and secondary school, I totally understand how beneficial it is.

I am pleased to be able to confirm today that our total investment for 2021-22 will be £1.1 million. That money will support the new project in Wester Hailes, which we are celebrating in tonight’s debate, and it will help Sistema Scotland to continue to grow and innovate their model.

As culture secretary, I value the cultural and creative opportunities that big noise provides to young people. Many of us will have had the opportunity to see the talented musicians from the programmes perform. Sistema Scotland is, however, much more than a cultural organisation. One of the things that is so inspiring about it is that learning a musical instrument and being part of an orchestra is a means rather than just an end in itself. It is a means of supporting families and communities, and of helping young people to realise their potential.

Members will be aware that the long-term research from the Glasgow Centre for Population Health has demonstrated key impacts for participants, from increased confidence and aspiration to better school attendance and increased resilience, happiness and fulfilment. The big noise programmes are a brilliant example of how involvement in creative and cultural activity can have a positive impact on individuals and communities.

As members know, we published a culture strategy for Scotland last year. Two of its main themes are empowering through culture and transforming through culture. The transforming through culture theme highlights the ways in which culture can contribute to so many areas, including health and wellbeing, learning, and reducing inequality, and how culture has such huge transformational potential.

Michael Marra

The alignment with the culture strategy is clear in relation to both empowerment and transformation. We have heard eloquent speeches on that. I welcome the amount of money that has been committed by the Scottish Government, but is it a long-term commitment? At what stage are negotiations with Sistema Scotland about a genuinely long-term approach? As I said in my speech, it is about making a permanent commitment to those communities. It is great to hear that the big noise project is coming to Edinburgh, but we must ensure that that commitment is in place for many years to come.

Angus Robertson

That is a very well-timed point. The Scottish Government is currently drawing up a cultural renewal strategy as we emerge from the Covid pandemic. We have thought long and hard about the query at the heart of the member’s intervention, which is the long-term ability of such important projects to continue. I am unable to give a sneak preview right now, but when we get to that stage I would be happy to answer the question more fully. The point is well made. The big noise project changes people’s lives now, but it should also be able to transform people’s lives in the future, too.

Michael Marra

That is key. Many councils have supported the projects locally through their own budgets. For example, Dundee City Council has committed to taking on support for the project in the coming year, on a tight financial settlement from the Scottish Government—I know that the minister and I disagree on whether that is a fair settlement. As Mr Lumsden highlighted in his speech in relation to Torry, and as other colleagues noted in relation to commitments in the Raploch and now in Edinburgh, the reality for such projects is that a central form of support is necessary, because we know what will happen if it is up to the local authorities to bear the load of the cuts. The projects will come under extreme pressure. They need that central funding support in order to continue.

Angus Robertson

I commend the gentleman for putting his very persuasive arguments on the record once again. He will understand why I am unable to go any further at this stage, given that we are preparing for the cultural renewal strategy to be agreed. His point is well timed and will help to crystallise the thinking in that process.

The theme of empowering through culture celebrates culture as central to our communities and essential to everyday life. It recognises the importance of opportunities to participate in culture throughout our lives. The big noise programmes are proof of the importance of both themes.

The Scottish Government is proud of our wider youth arts programmes, including the youth arts emergency fund and the youth music initiative, which have provided a range of opportunities for young people to access cultural and creative opportunities that they might not otherwise have been able to get involved in. Our funding to Sistema Scotland fits within our overall work to widen access to high quality cultural opportunities.

We know that, in the last year or so during the pandemic, the programmes will have had a really important role in helping young people with their wellbeing and confidence. There is also an exciting range of creative and cultural opportunities funded through the get into summer programme. In August, I had the opportunity to visit WHALE Arts centre in Wester Hailes—another organisation doing fantastic work in the community through arts and culture.

The past 18 months have been tough on our young people in particular. I commend Sistema Scotland for continuing to support the families with which they work most closely, at the height of the pandemic. That is a great example of the way that so much of our voluntary sector helped communities through the worst of the pandemic. Sistema Scotland adapted quickly to keep lessons going for the young people by taking them online. Sistema provided IT equipment to families who did not have it and helped families to access wider support while children were not able to be at school.

That is just a short overview of the importance and power of culture and creativity to change lives and of the fantastic work that Sistema Scotland has been doing in communities for more than a decade. We know from the research that the impact of big noise programmes on young people is really meaningful. I am delighted that it is opening a programme in Wester Hailes and will be working with a new community in Fallin near Stirling.

I am proud that the Scottish Government continues to invest to support Sistema Scotland’s growth. I am pleased to have had the opportunity to highlight and celebrate the fantastic work of the big noise programmes—both those already in place and those that are to soon to be.

Meeting closed at 18:04.