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Tuning in to the Epic Awards

Every year, the Epic Awards shine a spotlight on the achievements of voluntary arts groups across the UK and Ireland. With the deadline for 2018 coming up on Thursday 11 January, we take a look at last year's Scottish winners, the RE-Tune Project, which offers people with mental health difficulties the chance to make, and then play, their own stringed instrument.

RE-Tune Project - workshop

Based in a former boys’ home near Easterhouse in Glasgow, the RE-Tune project is the brainchild of David McHarg, a social worker for almost 20 years who became disillusioned with the impact his profession was having.

After re-training in woodwork and ‘luthiery’ (the craft of building and repairing stringed instruments), he set up the RE-Tune Project in 2014 in a bid to help those suffering from mental health difficulties, experiencing isolation and loneliness – and in particular, ex-service personnel suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We use anything and everything to make guitars – broomsticks, cigar boxes, skateboards," explains David. "We don’t throw anything away."

Over a series of months, participants learn how to renovate disused tools which they then use to repair donated guitars back to their former glory.

RE-Tune Project - guitar

"We get lots of donations of machinery and tools," says David. "With the tools it’s a case of the older the better – we’ve got tools made in 1895 – people throw them away because they’re rusty, but we can sort that. Not only can we bring them back to life, but they end up better than anything you can buy today. We’ll take this old chisel or old wood plane that’s been discarded, think of it when it was at the height of use, when it was loved, when it created things - let’s get it back to that."

RE-Tune Project - finished guitar

Through this process, it's not just the tools being transformed. "The guys understand that as well as what they’re building, being here is also about their personal journey. They speak about how their minds have changed about their whole situation – it’s a therapy, and it gets deep the chat in here – the men are very supportive of one another."

Some participants even go on to become trainers at the project themselves, passing on the skills they have learned. "Our whole ethos here is after a year, once you’ve learned the skills, you pass it on.”

David is a volunteer, as is the very supportive committee that helps run the project. Together they have helped many men re-claim their self-respect and self-esteem, giving them a second chance in life, just like the tools and instruments they work with.

The Scotland award alone was very special but to be chosen for the Peer Award takes it to another level. It really does make a difference.- David McHarg, RE-Tune

At a glittering awards ceremony in Gateshead back in March, RE-Tune not only won the Scotland Epic Award, but also the ‘Peer Award for Excellence’, a special award voted for by all the shortlisted groups across the UK.

RE-Tune Epic Awards Scotland Winners 2017

“It was a special honour to win the Epic Awards for Scotland, out of all the other superb voluntary projects," says David. "Working with people to improve their quality of life, and participation in creative arts, is a reward in itself but to be recognised for this is a massive boost to how we go on working. It makes it fresh and re-energised, with a focus on growth and more participation.

"The Scotland award alone was very special but to be chosen for the Peer Award takes it to another level. From all at the RE-Tune Project, thank you - this really does make a difference.”

The Epic Awards are an annual chance for your creative group or project to be recognised for the incredible work you've done over the past year. Applications are simple and straightforward, and are open until 5pm on Thursday 11 January 2018.

2017 Epic Awards winners

Special thanks to Kelly Donaldson and Voluntary Arts Scotland for providing this feature.

This article was published on 22 Dec 2017