World Heart Beat Music Academy is an inspirational centre of musical excellence for young people. The Academy aims to give children and young people – many of whom would never have access to musical education – the opportunity to learn music within a structured programme, alongside other young people, and under the guidance of committed and inspirational musicians.

In November 2022, World Heart Beat Music Academy opened an exciting new venue in Nine Elms, South West London – an area that itself is going through much development and change. Founder and artistic director Sahana Gero MBE talked to Take it Away about the new venue, and what it means for the community and young people that will benefit.

The new space was a labour of love, and young people were involved at every step of the planning and design.

We won a competition to develop the site in 2017, so it was five years in the making and designing (with COVID in the middle). It was really incredible… So many people have been part of the whole journey. We’d bring all the samples for the tiles and the carpets… everything as it’s been coming through, so all the youngsters we work with have been part of the whole process and the design. It’s a place that’s going to be for the future. And our future is the youngsters.

The Mayor of Wandsworth cuts the ribbon with Sahana Gero, founder of World Heart Beat

The Mayor of Wandsworth cuts the ribbon with Sahana Gero, founder of World Heart Beat

World Heart Beat opening, green room. Credit: Wandsworth Council

We wanted to celebrate it in style, so we had a number of openings…

The first one was for the youngsters, for the kids and their families. They loved it, it was just beautiful. They were all playing hide and seek. But on top of that, they were doing a talent show and they were getting up and performing, arranging it themselves and arranging bands. And they were in all the different rooms practising and playing and just being there. And so that was a really beautiful time.

Then we had one for the Nine Elms community. So all the cultural people and the political people (including the Minister of Culture) showed up… Sadiq Khan sent a beautiful letter to me.

Then, we had one for the funders, who have been fantastic. They’ve really, really given a lot to actually making this whole capital project happen. So we’re really grateful for those people.

Then we had an evening for the people have been directly involved in the project. The musicians, the builders, the people that did the sound, the people that sponsored the carpet… everybody came!

And then we had another opening for the local residents, because it’s a real community space. So people coming from [their homes] upstairs can come down. I said that, in the opening for the musicians, this is a vision for this place to be the United Nations of music. There should be a music academy, in every street corner, a concert hall in every little town. And this (the Nine Elms district) is a new town.

Culture in the community is part of the solution for everything –a generator, as important as businesses– not as an ‘add on’

An article that came out recently said that the GDP that’s created from cultural economy in London in the city, is £58 billion a year. And one in six jobs are in the creative sectors, but nobody talks about how important it is.

The government gave us some levelling up money- they invested £800,000. And the government has said, that in investing that money, it brings £11 million in return to the local economy. I was blown away by that, but it makes total sense as well.

Culture is not an ‘add on’ [to a community]. It’s got to be seen as part of the whole thing. I think that basically, you should start with culture. You should start with your cultural anchor.

Arial view of the packed out concert hall, with a cake being cut on stage.

Photo credit: Tatiana Gorilovsky

I can write a book on how to build a concert hall. It was interesting dealing with the property developers!

I think a lot of the challenges we faced were around the lack of understanding of what culture can really bring to your whole development, and particularly when it comes to music. Everybody’s scared of music, because they’re scared of noise, or scared of young musicians. They’re scared of audiences. There’s a lot of issues that we have to deal with.

But the fact is, we’ve made a soundproof place. And the residents, who live right upstairs, can’t hear anything, so they’ll have to come downstairs for a visit to know what’s going on!

The new space is a welcome addition to our existing facility in Kimber Road, Wandsworth.

At Kimber Road, we’re all squished in there together, but also on top of it. It’s really busy, and flourishing. It was so busy that people were teaching in the kitchen. We’re teaching in the cloakrooms. We’re teaching the stairwells. It’s multiple people teaching in one room. So busy.

We also support people. For the older ones, we’ve got a world class recording studio, so we can record their first albums. We can launch them with concerts, and then they can do all the production and the back-end things like radio production. So we’ve got a lot of extra opportunities for them. And also a beautiful concert hall where world class artists can come.

four young people pose playfully with different instruments

We’ve created a ‘Heart Beat’ for the community.

Oh, I’m so grateful to have our Academy because at least it’s something for people to do. It’s something that we can reach out and really offer.

We’ve offered free piano lessons… But obviously, we can only serve a certain amount of people because we don’t have unlimited space. We did four months of free piano classes. So anybody that came, during the summer holidays from June until the end of September, they could learn piano. We held drop in sessions for four days a week, classes, workshops and concerts. And then because we wanted to teach them properly, we gave them donated keyboards if they needed it, and we gave them piano books and everything they might need. So they were learning properly. We had 39 regular students that came for those four months. And then we had drop-in sessions and extra things as well. So it was really there to help develop talent. We’ll do it again next summer, if we get the funding, that’s the kind of position we really want to hold in this community.

Sahana Gero holding a clarinet

A highly accomplished musician and music teacher, Sahana has performed in over 70 countries. Trained in clarinet, flute and saxophone, over 25 years Sahana has taught more than 1,500 children to play an instrument.

Passionate about music’s capacity to transform lives, she has dedicated her own to creating World Heart Beat Music Academy in SW London.

She has been an examiner for Trinity College London for many years and was Head of Woodwind for Wandsworth Music Services prior to devoting her time to World Heart Beat.