A charity which uses the power of live music to enhance the lives of people who are learning disabled has launched a ‘1,000 Instruments Challenge’ this week to ask people across the country to donate their unwanted musical instruments to them.
Electric Umbrella hopes to collect 1,000 instruments by Christmas and all donated instruments will be repaired, re-purposed or adapted by the charity so they can be used by members or they will be sold to raise funds for the charity.
Electric Umbrella adapts and/or rebuilds instruments for members to use which creates unique opportunities for learning disabled people.
They have made some truly amazing instruments such as drum kits that strap on to wheelchairs, banana pianos, and a drill guitar which was invented so that a band member could use his foot to play the instrument.
Electric Umbrella member William from Hayes, Uxbridge, West London, received an accordion three months ago from an Electric Umbrella supporter.
William (35), who has cerebral palsy, had always wanted an accordion and waited patiently for years. When he heard that someone had donated one he was so excited that he couldn’t sleep the night before they went to pick it up.
His friend Pauline Attree from Slough in Berkshire, said: “When William puts the piano accordion on his chest he squeezes it in and out to play it and his face says it all – he loves it!
“Sometimes Tom or someone else from Electric Umbrella will press the buttons on the side to make a tune.
“He absolutely loves Electric Umbrella, they are his family. He thinks having this accordion and being in a band is the best thing in the world.”
Long term member of Electric Umbrella Jonathan Watson (22) from Tring in Hertfordshire has poor mental health, a mild learning disability, extreme OCD and anxiety, but this is not how he should be defined because he also has incredible talent on stage.
Electric Umbrella has helped to empower him to achieve the most extraordinary things, including rapping for an audience of hundreds of people.
Jonathan said: “The amazing thing about Electric Umbrella is that we play a lot of instruments and sing and it doesn’t matter if you’re not the best singer or musician because you can just let it all out and be yourself.
“They are very inclusive. They even make inventions of instruments for people to use.
“For example, they made a guitar with a fishing rod on it so a person in a wheelchair can strum the strings with the rod to create a tune, but that’s just one example, they do so many incredible things.”
The Hertfordshire based charity Electric Umbrella (EU) was set up five years ago by Mel Boda and Tom Billington to provide a platform for learning disabled people to enjoy live music, and in doing so challenge the perceptions towards learning disabled people. They organise gigs, operatas, musicals and even festivals.
Members regularly say they feel left behind by society and placed on the sidelines. Sadly, many of them have also experienced discrimination and say they could achieve far more than what’s expected of them, if given the right opportunities.
During the pandemic Electric Umbrella launched online sessions to bring fun interactive shows, singalongs, often with inspiring guests, to their hundreds of members, many of whom relied on these social and creative sessions to get them through this difficult time.
While online sessions have been necessary during the pandemic, Electric Umbrella looks forward to hosting in-person events again so that members can enjoy playing musical instruments, take part in singalongs, and meet up with friends and family for ‘real-life’ social interaction.
Electric Umbrella Creative Director and co-founder Tom Billington said:
“We believe there is still life in even the oldest dogs and we’re asking people to donate their unused instruments so we can put them to good use and bring fun and joy to people’s lives.
“By empowering learning disabled people to take centre stage and show off their amazing talents we aim to encourage people to think differently about them.
“By donating your unwanted and unloved musical instruments you can be part of a movement to change people’s perceptions and make the world a more inclusive place.”
Electric Umbrella would also be grateful if any schools, workplaces or other organisations could act as a collection point for donated instruments and become a ‘Donation Station’. If you are interested email firstname.lastname@example.org. Also email this address if you live in Hertfordshire and you’d like the charity to pick up your instrument (or you want to drop it off).
To donate your musical instrument, visit: www.electricumbrella.co.uk/1000