Children in a classroom setting


Published 14 July 2022 at 5:38pm

Darts, an organisation which creates arts for people in Doncaster to improve lifelong learning, was awarded £39.9k from the South Yorkshire Mayors’ ARG Arts & Culture Fund to bring together its own artists and freelance artists to create two programmes: Breathe & Connect and Tuneful Chatter.

The artists used their experience of delivering years of singing and dance programmes and adapted the model to respond to the specific needs of Doncaster residents, both young and old, who have been severely impacted by Covid. The artists worked collaboratively with health professionals, to understand the health and social impacts of Long Covid before designing the programmes. Here we look at how Tuneful Chatter helped young people in Doncaster.

Tuneful Chatter

Darts secured funding through Doncaster Council and the Additional Restrictions Grant from South Yorkshire Mayoral Authority in 2022 to develop a music and movement approach in direct response to the challenges being faced by young people in Doncaster.

Darts was in contact with early years practitioners throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and found that there was a significant impact both on families of under 5’s and on the children themselves. Evidence from Ofsted research interviews with early years providers shows the pandemic has substantially delayed the learning of young children; particularly their personal, social and emotional development.

Doncaster Primary Schools also informed darts that pupils were struggling, following the pandemic. They reported that they didn’t know how to listen, sit and concentrate, focus, take turns or interact with adults. Many of those for whom English isn’t their first language haven’t spoken English at home during the lockdowns and have fallen behind with language development.

darts artists and freelance artists worked collaboratively with each other and with early years practitioners, to understand the issues and to test and refine their approach. Artists delivered 40 music and movement sessions with groups of 3-5 year old children at Grange Lane Infant Academy and Town Fields Primary School. Here are the stories of some of the young people who benefited.

Cindy’s story

Cindy (not her real name) was in one of the regular music and movement groups at Townfield Primary School, supported by a Teaching Assistant. She couldn’t stay for long at the beginning and flitted in and out, to get a sense of what was going on.

The artists made sure that when Cindy was in the room, she could be included in creative activity as much as possible – showing her what the instruments sounded like and engaging her in playing them herself.

As the project continued Cindy stayed longer and longer and became part of the group for longer periods of time. Her focus was magical to behold: real concentration aligned to the sounds that she was hearing. She would sit still and sometimes create a high-pitched voice, which was a sign of enjoyment.

The next step happened naturally, and Cindy’s interest moved from listening into playing. She took hold of the instruments and played the big drum along with the musician and showed real rhythmic quality. At other times the musician followed her briefly, her Teaching Assistant felt that the response was so valuable that she thinks a continuation with sound and rhythm will be really beneficial to her longer term.

Mateu’s story

Mateu (not his real name) was in one of the regular music and movement groups at Townfield school. He had one to one support, and at the beginning of the project was unsettled and anxious, struggling to stay in a session, but the artists agreed with the staff support that he should feel free to dip in and out as Mateu felt comfortable.

The artists could tell that certain elements of the workshop sparked Mateu’s curiosity – especially the range of percussion instruments. In the five weeks of the project, the artists saw him moving from a state of not wanting to be in, to having real moments of contentment.

During workshop four, one musician looked over during the final listening section and saw that Mateu was sitting on the floor with his Learning Support Assistant. He was listening to the music and just looked content, which felt like a huge step forward. He began to engage with more and more activities, and we are confident that with further opportunities and an extended block of work, this progress would continue.

Jim’s story

Jim (not his real name) was in one of the regular music and movement groups at Grange Lane Infant Academy. At the very first session, one of the Learning Support Assistants appeared shocked that Jim was engaged in the activity, and had made a response to one of the artist’s questions, something he had never done before.

On one occasion an artist saw Jim with his hand raised up. She signalled to him to answer the question, but could clearly see in his expression a desire to answer, to communicate, and be involved in the present discussion; but he struggled to speak and was unable to get his words out. Artists describe Jim’s attention within the sessions as ‘incredible’ – his eyes rarely drifting away from the activity. He appeared captivated, enthused, and provoked positively by the artistic intervention.

Artists used singing and Makaton signing of the “Hello Song” and “Goodbye Song” consistently each week as strong bookends to every session.

As the weeks went on, Jim’s eagerness to create physical gestures to accompany the group’s Makaton signing became stronger. He was able to use Makaton more confidently and proficiently to communicate each session, and his speech also began to improve.

Over the five weeks of participating, the Tuneful Chatter programme gave Jim, a child with limited speech, the accessibility, communicative confidence and passion, to share this with another child. And in doing so, he demonstrated huge progress with his personal development.

For more details about Tuneful Chatter or other programmes from darts in Doncaster visit the website

For more information about the South Yorkshire ARG Arts & Culture funding visit


Last Updated: 14/07/2022

Published In: Arts, Culture, Heritage