A new drumming tradition

Drum Works began in 2007, when the Barbican invited London-based musicians Ross McDouall and Jo Wills to collaborate with Brazilian cultural group Afro Reggae on a short-term samba project in an east London secondary school. Once the project was over, Afro Reggae returned home and we were left with a pile of samba drums, a group of 20 teenagers and some time to figure out what to do next. It very quickly became apparent that samba music had no real cultural relevance to the young east Londoners or London-based leaders, so instead Ross and Jo asked the participants what they wanted to do and the group started creating new material together, inspired by the music they were all listening to every day.

The result was astounding. Giving the young people full ownership of the creative process in this way not only proved successful in engaging people, sowing the seeds for our incredibly popular project, but has also produced a body of work with a fresh, original sound that is completely distinctive to our local east London community.

For eight years the project flourished as part of the Creative Learning programme at the Barbican Centre and the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, before launching as an independent organisation in 2016. We are proud to be a Barbican Artistic Associate and continue to work closely with both the Barbican and the Guildhall School.

Drum Works today

Drum Works now involves around 570 people every week through five east London schools, two community programmes and three progression bands. The core of our activity is the work that takes place in schools: this is the heart of the project. Our senior bands, Drum Heads and Drum Heads Training Band, provide progression routes for young people who want to develop their skills further. An Assistant programme offers some of the older, more advanced players the opportunity to develop their music leadership skills while undertaking a mentoring programme to support their personal and professional development.

In response to popular demand we have also recently started running a wider programme of activity alongside the core work in schools, including bespoke workshops, CPD training and corporate teambuilding.

Our approach

All Drum Works sessions are led by professional musicians working in the music industry. Fast-paced, high-energy teaching processes are effective at engaging and inspiring people from any background, and allow complete beginners to play something new within the first five minutes of taking part. Leaders build good relationships with participants over time, creating a safe environment where every individual is empowered to contribute their own ideas. Once engaged, participants can then begin to develop musical, technical and leadership skills through regular involvement.


Regular performances at high-profile events give participants the opportunity to showcase their work, demonstrating that positive action, hard work and commitment achieve amazing results everyone can be proud of.

You can see a list of our upcoming performances here.

Vision and values

Our vision is to build a cohesive community where every individual is empowered to make positive choices, to aim high and to take responsibility for their role in supporting others. We achieve this by:

  • Empowering young people: creating an environment where every individual’s ideas are valued, helping to raise confidence and aspirations
  • Increasing engagement: demonstrating that active participation enables high achievement and promoting greater engagement in school life and community
  • Encouraging social cohesion: bringing young people from different backgrounds, different schools and different boroughs together to collaborate