The Scottish Event Campus director of live entertainment, Debbie McWilliams, discusses the positive power of live music on mental health and how Glasgow’s OVO Hydro (cap. 14,300) is working to support neurodiverse audiences.
The positive power of music on mental health has been well documented and has become a priority discussion across the live industry who recognise that the live entertainment sector has more work to do when it comes to inclusivity for fans who experience mental illness. Given this, in 2021 I began my personal journey to gain a better understanding of how venues can support neurodiverse concert goers and their own staff, in the hope that everyone who passes through OVO Hydro has access to the right emotional support.
The venue has long recognised the compatibility of mental health and music, as a consistent supporter of the UK’s largest music therapy charity Nordoff Robbins. Funds raised from venue initiatives such as Stack Cup have enabled their highly skilled music therapists to deliver sessions and create joy for people with life-limiting illnesses, disabilities and feelings of isolation and loneliness. The work of Nordoff Robbins was a great inspiration to the venue to use its platform to tackle similar issues.
The first step led me to an intensive course to deepen my knowledge about mental health and understand what I could do to help. I left feeling more informed about varying mental illnesses but, perhaps more importantly, comfortable starting conversations about mental health which can still be a sensitive topic to navigate. With a Leading First Aid Mental Health qualification (SCQF Level 6) under my belt, I knew that the real impact would come from sharing and implementing what I had learned.
Our qualified team of Mental Health First Aiders worked tirelessly to create the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) Mental Health Strategy later that year which aligned our existing People Strategy objectives with the NHS Five Pillar Vision. It is focussed around four key objectives: to understand the level of mental health requirements across our workforce, realign our strategy with the NHS 5 pillars approach, create a content rich delivery plan and create a mental health KPI.
Our policy is reviewed regularly and outlines the definition of mental health, how we recognise it, how the company and the team can help, as well as various support services available. Since it came into effect, our mental health provision has been activated on several occasions in support of our team members. The Mental Health First Aider team was able to intervene, support and achieve positive outcomes, due to the training received as part of the programme.
Now, as SEC prepares to welcome YungBlud to OVO Hydro this month, we are planning to take what we’ve already learned to the next level, partnering with Show Support – the UK’s mental health service provider at live events – to deliver safe spaces within the venue including qualified mental health professionals trained to assist attendees with anxiety, panic attacks, and more. YungBlud has been open about his own battles with anxiety and depression and, in partnering with Show Support for his arena tour, is playing an important part in the movement towards more inclusive live shows.
I am still at the beginning of my personal and professional journey with regard to mental health but am determined that this work will have a positive legacy for The Hydro and beyond. My vision for the industry is one that brings together music lovers and those who make it all happen behind the scenes, regardless of their struggles, to experience the joy of seeing your favourite singer on stage and knowing specialised support and safe spaces are available in those vulnerable moments. The first step is asking ‘How can I help?’.