Les Mis star attacks cuts to youth music service

Caroline Sheen with Les Miserables co-star Craig Mather at The Stage New Year Party. Photo: Stephanie Methven
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West End performer Caroline Sheen has joined more than 3,000 people in calling for a service providing young people with music tuition to be protected from funding cuts.

The proposal from Newport City Council to remove its contribution of £292,000 to Gwent Music Support Service – which provides musical instrument tuition to more than 9,000 students in south east Wales and organises choirs and orchestras – could put the future of the organisation in jeopardy. Alongside Newport council’s contribution, the service receives £217,400 annually from Torfaen County Borough Council and £260,000 from Monmouthshire County Council.

Those opposing the cuts claim the move could deprive young people of opportunities to engage with the arts and create a divide between those who can pay for music tuition and those who are unable to.

Sheen, whose stage credits include The Witches of Eastwick and most recently Les Miserables, in which she played Fantine, said the service had been a vital part of her music education. She learned how to play violin and clarinet through it, and also narrated performances with one of the organisation’s youth orchestras. “They do a lot of outreach projects to special needs children and children from less fortunate backgrounds and those are the projects that will have to go first as these cuts are so severe,” she said.

“The underprivileged people are going to lose the opportunity to access free music lessons and then music will become this stuffy subject just for the rich.”

A petition has been set up calling on Newport City Council, which is consulting on proposals to address a shortfall of more than £8 million in next year’s budget, to reconsider its plans for the service.

Rachel Cowgill, professor of music at Cardiff University, claimed the proposed cut would “disadvantage a generation of young people”.

However, a spokeswoman for the council said the proposal was to “remove its funding, not to end the service” and added: “It aims to make it become more self-sufficient while also finding ways to offer some financial support to less well-off students.”

She said a local fund could be created to support children who needed “a small amount of funding” to pursue their interest in music.

“As with other extra-curricular activities, schools – many of whom have surpluses in their budgets – could opt to ‘buy’ the service for their pupils,” she said.

Newport City Council is expected to make a decision on its proposal next month.