A blind teenage singer spoke movingly about her love of music when she attended an adventure-filled free summer school.
Isabelle Harrison, 15, from Llandegla, was among the hundreds of youngsters who took part in the School’s Out! courses organised by the North Wales Music Cooperative
It proved such a massive hit that the cooperative’s website crashed within 24 hours of the places being advertised.
The group is an award-winning, not-for-profit organisation providing quality music tuition with two sister cooperatives in Denbighshire and Wrexham.
Isabelle, known as Izzy by her friends, was determined to get the most from her week which combined her two greatest passions – music and having fun with her friends.
She did not let her blindness hold her back from doing everything from star-jumps and press ups to playing rounders and learning to samba.
It was also an opportunity to celebrate achieving a merit award in her latest singing examination with Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music which she prepared for with the help of her Denbighshire Music Cooperative tutor Ann Davies.
Izzy said: “I feel so lucky that I get to take part in the summer school. It’s been fantastic fun. Everyone is brilliant, so friendly and helpful.
“Over the past year or so it’s been really hard having to do everything online, not being in class with other pupils and having to stay at home so much.
“I’ve got four younger brothers and it’s been one great big challenge with us all having to learn at home, learning on different levels. We drive each other nuts.
“But my music has helped keep me sane. I love singing and sing all around the house.
“I’m a social type of person and like to get out and do things. That’s why when this summer school came along I thought to myself ‘I’ve got to do that.’
“It’s been great to finally get out and burn off some energy. I’ve loved learning samba and everyone has been great helping me get about, especially with the outdoor exercises and the obstacle course.”
Izzy was among 150 youngsters, aged from five upwards, on the School’s Out! programme at Ysgol Brynhyfryd, Ruthin.
Other School’s Out! sessions are based at three schools in Wrexham including at Ysgol ID Hooson in Rhos, St Mary’s School in Brymbo and at Ysgol Heulfan in Gwersyllt.
All have been a bumper hit with youngsters across both counties, attracting more than 700 applicants as soon as they were advertised.
The activities were funded by the Welsh Government with the money being allocated by Denbighshire and Wrexham councils as part of the Summer of Fun scheme.
North Wales Cooperative founder and head of service Heather Powell said: “We were flabbergasted. The School’s Out! website was so popular it crashed within 24 hours of the announcement of our 2021 summer school dates being posted.”
“The School’s Out! programme was specially designed with pupils’ wellbeing in mind after the hard times of the last 18 months.
“It’s been such a big ask of young people like Isabelle and other children who have had to completely change their way of learning and their whole approach to education.
“Having lessons at home requires an entire new skill set and a self-discipline which is demanding on them emotionally and physically.
“They also have to spend a lot more time doing close up work on screen, which can be doubly tiring, so with the summer school we put the emphasis on outdoor activities and the chance for them all to blow off some steam.
“Mental wellbeing is so important for kids and we wanted to make this fun and as much of a mental release for them as we could.”
Funded by Denbighshire and Wrexham County Councils, the summer schools are free for participants and offer a mix of music sessions, sports, and performing arts.
The music modules are led by tutors from Denbighshire and Wrexham Music Cooperatives, who during the rest of the year work extensively with schools and individual clients providing tuition on a wide range of musical instruments and voice.
For the sports sessions they have teamed up with Commando X-Fit Wales, based in Colwyn Bay.
Founded by ex-Royal Marines, Adam White and Dan Harrison, Commando X-Fit tailor exercise programmes to suit different age groups and abilities.
Instructor Dan said: “Our aim is for the children to get as much out of this in terms of their mental well-being as they do in physical fitness. It is not a competition, it’s about working together and having some fun too.”
The performing arts element of the summer school is led by West End actor Craig Ryder, originally of Llanrwst, and fellow actress Jenny Jones.
Craig, who has been helping deliver the summer schools for about seven years, said the last two years had been exceptional in the way all the tutors had risen to the challenges of a different format.
He said: “I think we have a great formula here which the children are benefiting from in so many ways.”
Heather added that said she and fellow music tutors were now looking forward to a return to face-to-face music lessons again in the new school term.
She said: “We all can’t wait to get back into schools come September and offer one to one tuition again.”
The chairman of Denbighshire Music Co-operative, Councillor Mark Young, was delighted the summer school was such a huge success.
He said: “It’s been a really difficult 18 months for everybody and it has had a major impact on our children and young people so the these activities have been the perfect antidote.”
Cllr Huw Hilditch-Roberts, Denbighshire County Council’s Lead Member for Education, Children’s Services and Public Engagement, said: “The Council is delighted Denbighshire Music Cooperative has been able to provide a great series of events for pupils as part of the Summer of Fun scheme.
“Supporting our young people to reach their potential is a priority for the Council and Summer of Fun has provided some fantastic opportunities this year.”