Future Collaborations is an inclusive and accessible music outreach program designed and delivered by AutismAble and funded by Youth Music, for people aged 14-25. The project was commissioned in 2022 and has reached over 100 participants so far.
The aims of the program are to increase participation in music, especially among disadvantaged and hard-to-reach young people, and to promote neurodivergent and neurotypical collaborations within the music industry.
Young people told us about the barriers to learning they had experienced in the past
A lot of work went into the design of the project before we applied for funding from Youth Music. As part of the project design team, we had working musicians and ex-musicians (including myself) who have experience of both the wider music industry and community teaching initiatives.
More importantly, we spent a significant amount of time talking to young people, particularly neurodivergent individuals, who may want to participate in music. They told us about the barriers to learning they had experienced in the past and recommended some conditions that would make attendance at a music course more appealing.
It was crucial that the young people had access to high-quality resources throughout, including equipment, instruments, professional studios, tutors, producers, and accessible venues. Having personal experience of working on outreach music projects and in further education, I know that it isn't always the case that young people have access to good resources, especially those who are disabled or disadvantaged.
We sought expertise from music tutors and professional producers
We called in a few favours and sought expertise from music tutors and professional producers. Venues such as Pop Recs, Blast Studios, and The Cluny were all amazing and gave us reduced rates to use their top-level accessible venues. In return, we have delivered autism acceptance sessions to partner organisations, including the entire staff team of Generator North East.
We had consultancy from neurodivergent musicians such as Ben Lunn (an amazing composer who is also autistic), who advised on the project and delivered composition sessions to all participants. All participants also received the opportunity to record a track with Mark Broughton, who engineered Sam Fender's last record.
Additionally we delivered outreach sessions to other disability groups including New Hope North East, CREST, and Kayaks, whose members may not have had the levels of independence to access sessions on their own.
Our staff mentor team includes Lauren Osborne, who is a singer and also autistic, and Ian Black, who is an acclaimed recording artist under the pseudonym SLUG!
In this project there are entry points for most people, regardless of current ability or knowledge
Part of the success of the program so far has been how responsive we are to the needs of the learners. For example, we have provided one-on-one lessons and online lessons for learners who are too anxious to be in a group, we hold regular learner voice sessions so we can make continuous improvements, tutors explore new musical genres at the request of learners, and we have put on additional workshops such as urban beat making after feedback from the learner steering group.
The team at Youth Music have been amazing and are very passionate about inclusion and diversity in music.
The thing that I like most about the project is that there are entry points for most people regardless of current ability or knowledge. Some young people have progressed to music college and recorded their own compositions, while others are just happy to enjoy music collaboration and turn up every week to see their friends and participate.
Future Collaborations was named Youth Music's Outstanding Project at the Youth Music Awards in October at the Troxy in London, and the project has just been recommissioned by Youth Music until February 2026.
Learn more about Future Collaborations and apply for a place on the programme.
Adam Cowley, Future Collaborations participant
My name is Adam Cowley and I have been working with AutismAble’s over 18s music project since about March, 2023.
I enjoy the music project because it feels almost empowering in a way. A group of neurodivergent people learning and playing music together. Everyone brings a different perspective and an interest in different genres of music.
I prefer the heavier side of music, your Metallicas, Slipknots and Killswitch Engages, and that’s the sort of music I like to learn. But because of this music group I’ve found myself learning things by The Specials, Ben E King and T.Rex and it’s really opened my mind.
It’s been really enjoyable meeting new people and playing shows, especially other neurodivergent people who are there for the same reason as I am.I’ve played some shows with different groups within the music project and I’ve been asked to host an upcoming music festival. It has taken me out of my comfort zone at times, especially performing in front of people but it’s been perfect for me.
The AutismAble staff that run the group allow us to lead the session and while we enjoy playing and recording music, we have also started learning about different genres of music such as krautrock and British Blues. While none of us listen to that style of music it has been fascinating learning about the history of these genres.
Lauren Osborne, Learning Mentor at AutismAble and neurodivergent musician
The Future Collaborations project simply allows the young people who attend to be themselves. The project's aim is to help them explore and develop their musical skills, collaborate with others in a safe environment, and bring neurodivergent and neurotypical people together.
As an autistic person myself, I know how hard it can be to be put into new situations and the anxieties that come along with that. Having a space for these guys to attend where they feel safe and feel recognised by others is amazing, and it's great to see how many new friendships and musical collaborations have formed because of it.
Working with neurodivergent musicians?
Find out about what neurodiversity means, how to support colleagues in the workplace, and where to find further support and help.