THE WORD Keeping the music playing
As he steps down after eight years as chairman of the Help Musicians charity, Graham Sheffield reflects on the changes that have challenged musicians and their growing needs
Music has long been hailed as a universal language; it’s the amplifier of emotions, it’s joy and comfort and a much-needed friend to millions across the world every minute of every day. Music’s role in society cannot be underplayed, which is why supporting those who create it continues to be vital. Without musicians we simply would not have the music that plays such an important role in all our lives.
It is for this reason and many more that it has been a privilege to hold the position of chairman at the charity Help Musicians for eight years. The charity began life as the Musicians’ Benevolent Fund in 1921 with the support of Ralph Vaughan Williams and Edward Elgar. Since then, it has grown and adapted to musicians’ needs, becoming more agile with age.
As I step down as chairman of this vital charity I reflect upon just how much the challenges that musicians face continue to evolve, and how Help Musicians must continually adapt to ensure that, in times of crisis and opportunity, musicians have somewhere to turn. When I started my chairmanship this much loved and highly respected charity had just changed its name and location, determined to do more to support musicians with career development as well as in times of insecurity. For 101 years now we have always been there for musicians in their hour of need, and never has help been more needed than during the pandemic where thousands turned to the charity for urgent financial support.
When I started in 2014 we supported 2,500 musicians in total, with £3.3m spent on grants to those in need. Contrast to 2021 when we supported over 24,000 musicians, with £9.9m of charitable resources given plus matched partner funding. 2022 is set to be another year where the charity delivers at scale, in terms of national reach, a support offer to musicians which has never been so broad and a financial commitment of £9.9m to ensure we have the right level of resources to support those who come to us for help.
The charity continues to work at pace and develop new ways to respond to the challenges musicians face. In the first quarter of 2022 the charity launched a number of new initiatives to help musicians thrive, including a new fund supporting career development through touring, a new bullying and harassment helpline, and a redoubling of efforts to reach even more musicians across the U.K with information on how we can help them with the many challenges they face. It is vital that the charity continues to evolve its services to empower musicians to rebuild their careers post-pandemic.
As Help Musicians enters its second century, the charity is in robust shape and is in a stronger position to help musicians than ever before. I know that it will continue to flex, innovate and work tirelessly to involve as many music lovers as possible in the its mission: to create a world where musicians thrive.
It has been a privilege to lead Help Musicians.
In April Graham Sheffield was succeeded as chairman of Help Musicians by Bob Shennan, the BBC;s group managing director