Zahra Tehrani of the Oxford Young Women’s Music Project tells Tim Hughes why the initiative needs funds to continue its rocking mission

For all the images of rock and roll rebels, music is all too often a rich man’s game, dominated by privileged lads with a good education.

A private education, with the confidence that brings, coupled with music tuition, access to instruments and the safety net of independent wealth often seem a prerequisite to success. And a look at most festival line-ups shows that blokes still have the upper hand.

Launched in 2000, Oxford’s Young Women’s Music Project set out to start redressing the balance – giving a platform for girls and young women, aged between 14-21 and of all backgrounds, to make music from r’n’b to indie-rock.

For the past two and a half years, the charity has been running workshops out of Fusion Arts at East Oxford Community Centre, but with the future of the venue unclear, the project desperately needs to find a new space – and it has launched an emergency appeal to raise funds to pay for a new home at the recently-opened Makespace community hub in Aristotle Lane, North Oxford.

“Since the YWMP began, it has provided a vital space for girls and young women, often from disadvantaged and vulnerable backgrounds, to access education and creatively express themselves,” says project director Zahra Haji Fath Ali Tehrani.

“We provide an inclusive and supportive space for young women to make music together, learn new skills, express themselves, and grow in confidence. In our free music sessions and workshops, the young women make and record music, plan and hold gigs and events, and discuss issues affecting young people.

“YWMP was set up to balance the male to female ratio in music in Oxford. A recent study shows that women still only make up 33 per cent of people performing in the UK. We have created a safe space for the young women of Oxfordshire to come and make music at any level, gaining new skills and support onto the next step in their career.

“Securing a safe and reliable space for the group to meet is critical to ensuring the project can continue.”

The crowdfunder campaign hopes to raise £15,000 to create Oxfordshire’s first youth-led music space. With a unit offered by Makespace, the pressure is on to raise funds to sound-proof the space and cover the initial rent.

Zahra says: “The young women who attend our project deserve a safe space to create. They have been a part of all the decision making on this mission to find a home. For years we have gone from cupboard to classroom, running sessions wherever we could with a solid following of over 65 participants. This is a huge milestone for us.

“The money raised will also pay for three of the young women who are training in visual arts and interior design to plan, create and build the interior and furniture with a professional mentor.”

A set by members of the project was among the highlights of last month’s Common People Oxford festival – where they have performed every year since it was launched. They are also familiar fixtures at the city’s Cowley Road Carnival, where they host their own stage, and Supernormal, Truck Festival, Oxford Pride and the city’s better live music venues.

“One woman aged 17 told us it was an amazing project because it allows everyone to just be themselves, without judgement or fear,” says Zahra. “She said it had allowed her to have more self love and confidence by giving her all the support she needed.

“She said it had allowed her to have more self love and confidence by giving her all the support she needed. She said that by being part of the project you are part of a sisterhood that protects and cares for one another wholeheartedly, and that when she did gigs on her own, she felt lost without them.

She said the project had provided her with so many opportunities and knowledge and told us: ‘I am, without exaggeration, a different person for the better... without YWMP I wouldn’t be the person I am today’.”

And the artists are a diverse bunch. “They come from all backgrounds and from all sides of the county,” says Zahra. “Many of these women and girls come from vulnerable backgrounds. I have met many of them in different settings from pupil referral units, after school clubs and psychiatric wards.”

“We currently have a cohort of 65, but we have worked with thousands of young people over the past 18 years – musicians, DJs and artists.”

Forthcoming shows include a set at Ruskin School of Art in Bullingdon Road, tomorrow; a fundraiser in a secret location for Oxford’s Sofar Sound; Truck Store, Cowley Road on June 28; and at Glass House Studio, Cumnor, on June 30.

Members have also released a powerful campaign music video produced with professional film-maker Fierce Kitty Films who has leant her support to the campaign.

“There isn’t a project like this that I know of anywhere else in the UK,” says Zahra.

“Now we need as much support for our crowdfunder campaign as we can get, to raise the £15,000 we need to secure our new home which we have been offered in Makespace.

“We have the following of young women and support from our community we just need the funds to give us a permanent home.”

Charity trustee Eden Bailey said the project must be allowed to continue its valuable role in getting more young women into music. She said: “YWMP have been doing incredible work in the community for years on a shoestring, moving from place to place to deliver life-changing opportunities.

“We’re really grateful Makespace have seen the value of the project, and are offering us a lifeline to continue and grow the project’s critical work.”

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  • Young Women’s Music Project plays the Ruskin School of Art, Bullingdon Road, Oxford tomorrow, 6pm, then Truck Store, Cowley Road, June 28