A songwriting program for people who experience disability, mental illness or disadvantage is creating a strong community through online sessions throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
Around 50 people from across the state, including a dozen from Ballarat, are participating in weekly sessions as part of the Wild At Heart Songwriting Group.
Wild At Heart Community Arts executive director Phil Heuzenroeder OAM said the program had created an incredible virtual community of peers, when people needed that sense of connection most.
"The social isolation from COVID has been a bit of a double whammy for people who already experience very significant isolation in their communities, both socially through lack of employment and mental health challenges," he said.
"The idea that the whole society has shut down can have an enormous impact on people's well-being. We worked hard to create that sense of community that comes from being together online."
The songwriting workshops are run on Zoom, beginning with group workshops where participants learn songwriting skills, before breaking into smaller group discussions.
Everyone who comes has a story.Phil Heuzenroeder OAM, Wild At Heart
Participants also have one on one online sessions with professional music mentors and complete songwriting activities at home.
The program had previously run face to face in Ballarat for the past five years.
"We have people who are brand new to songwriting and have never done it before and we have people who are producing their own albums," Mr Heuzenroeder said.
"Everyone who comes has a story; a story of mental health challenges, mental illness or disability. For many people employment, housing, relationships and stability have been really significant challenges in their lives.
"This is a group of people whose voices and stories are not heard in society. That is the extraordinary thing about this community of people."
Wild At Heart Ballarat songwriting group member Rachel O'Neill has been involved in the program for about 18 months.
She has been writing poetry all her life, recently begun branching into songwriting and was encouraged to join the group by a friend.
"It is definitely a supportive and encouraging environment," Ms O'Neill said.
"It is a safe place to express yourself without judgement and with constructive criticism you can then grow yourself from.
"It is always beneficial to anybody to have a sense of accomplishment, so there is that part of it but also for me it is having the space and time to put aside to invest in myself and something I enjoy doing."
Ms O'Neill has almost completed two songs, and is beginning work on a third, since the sessions switched to an online format.
She said she has started putting some of her songs on YouTube, which was her first brave step of putting her work into the world.
"Wild At Heart offers opportunities to a great diversity of people... there is a good cross section of the community that find a benefit from connecting with like minded people that experience similar struggles," Ms O'Neill said.
Visit wildatheart.org.au/ for more information on the program.
Have you signed up to The Courier's variety of news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in Ballarat.