In 1989 Chris Achenbach, Music Therapist for the Borders Region, came to Peebles to set up a music group for people with a disability, together with others from the community. This was a very exciting opportunity, eagerly taken up by members of Victoria Park Centre, who gathered on a Monday afternoon for creative music sessions with Chris, an experienced and well qualified music therapist. Claire Garnett, (who had recently been made redundant when her school closed) joined the group as a volunteer.
At the end of the year Chris moved to his next assignment in Duns - taking all the instruments, and of course the funding, with him! One of the aims of the project was to encourage the community to set up their own music group but this was not so easy with no equipment, no funding and no leader. The members of the group were terribly disappointed and desperately hoped that the music sessions would continue. Claire took up the challenge and Peebles Players was born.
There were only about 8-10 members at that time and music went ahead with a few borrowed, some broken 'throw-out' and some home-made instruments. Greenmantle bottle tops made good shakers threaded on a wire and cans of rice and lentils play their part too!
Once the group was formally established with a committee and constitution and with Judy Steel as President, fund raising could begin. The Arts Council gave generously to buy some good instruments, carefully chosen for a range of sound and playing techniques suited to those with mobility problems. Other grants have supported special projects - such as the 'Crossing Borders' concert when Peebles Players joined forces with Harambie, a similar group from Cumbria. It has also been possible to fund visiting artists to explore new musical ideas with members.
The first sessions were held in the Drill Hall but it was really not at all suitable, especially as storage for instruments was up an awkward, narrow stair. The Players moved to the Bake House which was more user friendly but not ideal. At this time to group was joined by Gala Day Services. In 2004 the Eastgate Theatre and Arts Centre was finally built and Peebles Players were welcomed as one of the regular resident groups with excellent storage for instruments. As time went on others came from Together Borders, Garvald and Ark Housing. The founder group of about 8 Players has grown so that as many as 45 can meet together to enjoy creating and communicating through their own music.
The Players enjoy sharing their music with others from the community and love to put on a show. In early days these were necessarily small scale in the cramped space of the Bakehouse but since moving to the Eastgate it has been exciting to use the Auditorium with the support of the technical staff, and performances have been more ambitious though still retain an informal atmosphere shared by many from the community.
The Players have enjoyed the varied opportunities for outreach work. Attending concerts in Edinburgh - making music in the forest - an interactive exhibition of sound and light - busking in Peebles - running a sing-along in old folks homes - leading workshops for other similar groups as well as open sessions for the Peebles Community.
Claire Garnett still leads the Players, supported by a band of volunteers together with the invaluable support staff who bring members to sessions and some of the founder members are still there every Monday enjoying the sessions as much as ever.