“I got the opportunity to demonstrate the growth I’ve developed in my vocal abilities during lockdown.” Emilia Pound is a student at Supajam Education – a post-16 specialist music college that Black Deer Festival works closely with – and she’s talking about the chance she took at Supajam’s White Hart Festival 2021. “I loved White Hart! It gave the students a creative outlet and the opportunity to connect with all the people we hadn’t seen because of COVID.”

When the devastating news came through that Black Deer Festival 2021 wasn’t going to happen, the staff and students of Supajam didn’t sulk… they set to work. Alongside co-founders David Court and Nick Stillwell, the students decided to produce their own festival and put into practice the skills they’d developed working with Black Deer over the last few years. “Our ethos is to be forward thinking, caring and encouraging whilst providing a structured, supportive and non-judgemental environment,” says David Court. “Black Deer share that ethos and the amazing relationship between Black Deer and SupaJam is like no other.”

It was said ethos that meant Supajam staff and students had the passion and ability to create the White Hart Festival, in the spirit of Black Deer, and book bands the calibre of The Wandering Hearts, Orange Circus Band and Hannah White. “We love Black Deer and have really missed it,” revealed The Wandering Hearts. “So we were thrilled to be back at Supajam to play their White Hart Festival and it was a brilliant day with so much talent on display. It was like experiencing a little snippet of real life again!” UK-based bluegrass band, and Black Deer-alumni, The Orange Circus Band agreed: “It was only our second gig back and we couldn’t have had a better welcome from Supajam and the Black Deer staff,” they said. “The vibe was buzzing and when we saw people dancing and bopping along it gave us big smiles. We met some talented Supajam students and look forward to seeing what they get up to in the future.”

The success of events such as White Hart Festival can only stand the students in good stead. “I cannot begin to tell you the pride I feel to be part of Supajam,” beamed Black Deer co-founder Gill Tee. “Take a little time to listen to the talent of the kids and the tutors who gave us so much joy with the White Hart Festival and you will realise what an extraordinary place Supajam is. These young people often haven’t had the best start in life, but events like this will help them to excel as individuals and find the potential within themselves.” The students took on every aspect of producing the festival – planning, producing, booking etc. – and delivered a first class event. “Having a festival like Black Deer involved is amazing, as it shows they believe in the younger generation and gives chances to the next generation,” said student EmiIia. “I loved performing in the choir, getting up and singing in public around people who share my love and passion for music.”

With 80% of Supajam students having some form of social, emotional or behavioural challenge to overcome, the organisation gives them a safe home to reignite their desire to learn and grow. “We initially set up SupaJam as a bit of philanthropy to see if we could help a handful of kids who had struggled in life succeed in gaining relevant qualifications around the music industry,” says co-founder David. “The Black Deer extended family has always supported that vision and our students, whose numbers have grown from a class of six in 2013 to more than 100 we have across our two bases in Swanley and Canterbury today. To be able to give them the opportunity to work alongside a festival like Black Deer is genuinely priceless. The White Hart Festival provided a ‘penny drop’ moment for our students, as Black Deer Festival itself usually always does: it’s after they spend the weekend being supported in their work experience that they often realise what they want to do for the rest of their lives… that’s invaluable and provides them with a genuine desire to succeed.”

We’ll leave the last word to another great artist booked by the students for White Hart, Americana songwriter Hannah White: “We were gutted when Black Deer couldn’t go ahead this year… there is no other festival like Black Deer and we absolutely love it. So, when we were invited to honour Black Deer at SupaJam’s White Hart Festival we didn’t hesitate. The atmosphere was uplifting and the SupaJam students were brilliant, doing stage management, taking photos, supporting on sound… and some even gave brilliant performances which blew us away. There were plenty of tears and it was quite emotional… but it made us all the more excited for Black Deer 2022!”

Find out more about Supajam Education.