Good vibrations

Jam StraightKevin Westbury tells DDN about Jam Straight, a place where people in recovery can relax, socialise and enjoy some good music.

The vineyard community centre in Richmond upon Thames was opened in 2012 with a vision to continue the work with the homeless and people in crisis that had taken place previously on the premises. A three-tier strategy was formed: a morning drop-in café to work with rough sleepers and people in need, a social café to provide an afternoon place to socialise for local people and 6AQLive, a provision of a local youth service. It is the youth service that has developed its own vision – to enable and empower young people to engage with issues of homelessness.

In January 2013 I was approached by ‘Tom’. He was a man in recovery and a musician, and his idea was to have a safe meeting place
for people who were in recovery from addiction and had an interest in music. We talked for a while about how this would look and how we would connect with groups in the area who might have an interest.

After coming up with the name Jam Straight, we held our first session in the basement on a Saturday night and 14 people came along. As a team we decided that this immediately felt like a family that we would like to support. The attendees were very keen to hold more sessions and invite more friends – so we decided on Thursday evenings.

6AQLive provides young people with training in all aspects of event management and café management and operation, as well as accreditation through the AQA unit award scheme. As Jam Straight began, we realised that this was a great opportunity for young people to practise the skills they had learned and also have more awareness of the delicate issues around

Having now run for several months, the Jam Straight sessions have more structure. We book in a local acoustic act to anchor the night, and attendees can bring their own instruments and perform to the group or just come to enjoy the atmosphere.

It has been a wonderful space to share with some amazing people, who are gifted and so friendly. It provides a safe place to socialise with freedom from temptation and a warm welcome. We want to promote this session, and in 2014 we will be holding one every fortnight so that it becomes a more regular venue for people in recovery.

The centre is fully equipped with a sound desk, lighting and PA, and includes a full café with ethically sourced coffee and homemade snacks. At present we are not charging for entry as we see the opportunity for people in recovery as more important – the café makes money and the young people get training opportunities.

For the community centre, Jam Straight is becoming a family of like-minded people with a passion for music, and for the patrons it’s Jam Straight bandmore than likely the very same. For me, when we run the sessions and it comes to closing time I really don’t want to go and wish we could just stay there for as long as possible. For the young people, I’m not sure that they see anything different about the people that come – only that the atmosphere is warm, inviting, and there is comfort in the safety of the venue.

Scott Cooper, a regular at the café, says ‘I go to Jam Straight because I love music of all types – even more so if it’s live! The atmosphere is nice and relaxed – it sort of reminds me of an old jazz club with the lighting and sound and leather sofas. Knowing that the money I am spending at the café is going straight back to help the community and people in crisis gives me a sense of wellbeing.

‘Jam Straight is one of the only non-alcoholic music venues in south west London. The JBL sound system and onboard soundman make sure it sounds sweet, while the friendly staff and cosy sofas make it a perfect venue for a night of original sounds and good coffee (and bring your guitar!).’

Jam Straight takes place on Thursday evenings, and will run fortnightly from 9 January 2014. For more information contact

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