Three Minute Heroes

Young people from Hull have worked with local musicians to write and record an album that addresses their difficult emotions or experiences

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Recalling the first time he heard I Want To Be Human, 10-year-old Josh Russell’s face lights up. “It was emotional,” the year six pupil at Priory Primary School in Hull says of his debut song lyric. “I didn’t know it was mine!”

He might not be the only one. Belying its author’s tender years, the barnstorming track on Three Minute Heroes, a unique record just released on Warren Records, nails the alienation and frustration of growing up.

It immediately stood out for Jamie Smith of Hull band the Quicksilver Kings, who set Russell’s words to music.

“It was amazing how uplifting and moving some of the pieces were.”

“The lyrics are personal and poignant,” says Smith. “It’s about a young person who wants to be heard – the kid saying what he wants to achieve and then the voice of the adult [telling him what to do]. We can all remember being like that, so we all related to it.”

And as a manifesto for Three Minute Heroes, it could scarcely be better.

The initiative by Hull’s Warren Youth Project aims to give young people the opportunity to express difficult emotions or experiences using creativity as a safety valve.

Russell’s song appears alongside words by students from nine other primary and secondary schools across Hull and East Yorkshire. They’ve been arranged by some of Hull’s top bands, in styles ranging from folk to funk, following a series of workshops run for 10 to 16 years olds.

In the sessions earlier this year, songwriters Lou Duffy-Howard and Christine Lewis and rapper Redeye Feenix demonstrated how spoken word could be turned into song. The young people then tried out the techniques themselves with stream-of-consciousness writing exercises.

“We created a safe environment that allowed children to talk about something that’s difficult to talk about,” explains Duffy-Howard. “For 20 minutes, they just splurged out what was in their mind onto the page.

“When we saw some of the pieces, it was amazing how uplifting and moving some of them were. We asked one girl: what do you do when you’re feeling down? She said: I go as high as I can on my trampoline.”

Three Minute Heroes Team in action 1_bigissuenorth
Withernsea High School pupils write lyrics with rapper Redeye Feenix.

Louisa Waldron, Russell’s class teacher, says the children enjoyed the freedom to write whatever they wanted.

“It’s given them different ways of thinking, exposing them to different types of music, different teaching styles, having a chance to be listened to.

“A lot of the children said when they weren’t feeling good, they went and hid in their bedroom or in the bathroom. Now they’re saying I could just write a poem about it. So it’s giving them another outlet for things that might be going on.”

But although the emphasis is on the positive, raising self-esteem through creativity, the process can tap into deeper feelings.

Duffy-Howard says that bereavement, academic pressure and other stresses from young people’s lives have come to the fore during the sessions, which always had one of the Warren’s trained counsellors on hand to help participants deal with difficult emotions.

That finding is consistent with the rising tide of mental health problems experienced by young people in Britain. A survey of 14 year olds carried out in 2016 by the Department for Education found a steep rise in feelings of depression and anxiety, with a 52 per cent increase in hospital admissions for self-harming among under-16s.

Providing support services to marginalised and vulnerable young people from its base in central Hull, the Warren often finds itself on the frontline of this epidemic, according to manager JJ Tatten.

“We deal with some very serious mental health issues, resulting from abuse, controlling and coercive behaviour, and crime,” he says.

The education system, believes Tatten, is another factor behind the general rise in unhappiness. “It’s an A*-obsessed system. There’s always a pressure for young people to be something, often not themselves. They’re labelled and streamed very early, which creates a very pressured environment.

“Perhaps it’s because we were all young people once – we think we know all about them and what they need.”

The Warren, he says, provides an antidote to this, offering young people somewhere to get away from the pressure where they can learn new skills, such as music recording, get advice on careers, receive person-centred counselling or just hang out with friends at the café.

He has realised the project could play a much greater role in helping young people who never use the Warren. “We have six trained counsellors providing counselling in schools and at the centre. On top of this, our music service is hugely successful. Three Minute Heroes combines those strengths.”

Backed by the Joe Strummer Foundation, the Big Lottery-funded HeadStart Programme and Hull University, among others, the initiative aims to use the publicity generated by Hull’s status in 2017 as UK City of Culture to create a new approach to tackling young people’s mental
health issues that can be replicated anywhere.

And while music is the focus, social media, often the blight of young lives through online bullying, is also being mobilised for good with the hashtags #THREEMINUTEHEROES and #HEARMEOUT.

“We’re asking young people to be proactive about their mental health – to take three minutes to tweet their experiences or to support someone else,” says Tatten. “We want them to reduce the stigma and do it in a powerful and creative way.”

The issues identified through the writing workshops and social media campaign will be presented at a conference this month, when young people will join teachers, mental health professionals, musicians, politicians, police and parents to discuss ways forward.

Many of them were there for the album launch gig, where the stars of Hull’s music scene weren’t the only three minute heroes in the house. Cheered onto the stage after the Quicksilver Kings had finished playing his song, Russell took the mic to say: “I wrote that!”

Three Minute Heroes is out on Warren Records as a free download although the Warren is asking for donations to help bring the campaign to more young people (

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