“It got me thinking about creating something that supported people in the same sort of way” – Mike Thompson on getting on the ‘RiteTrax’

10 years on from going to prison, Exposed reflects with RiteTrax founder Mike Thompson on the intervening journey that led him to establish a social enterprise providing a unique service for vulnerable adults in the community.

The 10th of January 2014 is a date etched into the mind of RiteTrax founder and Plot 22 manager Mike Thompson, who on that day began a 14-month prison sentence for drug offences.

For the University of Sheffield graduate, who had co-founded Artificial Constructs, a creative collective for the underground scene in the city, the experience spawned an intense period of self-reflection. He began exploring ways to use the contacts built up from a close association with the local party scene and build something positive.

Mike Thompson

RiteTrax founder and Plot 22 manager Mike Thompson.

“Through my time in prison, I met a person called Jackie Hewitt-Main, who had set up an organisation called The Cascade Foundation which supported prisoners with learning difficulties,” Mike tells Exposed. “Since I had a degree, I was asked if I’d like to help teach other prisoners English. I spent half of my sentence doing that and found it really interesting and rewarding. I saw the difference it makes, and it got me thinking about creating something that supported people in the same sort of way but based more around music and my background.”

After leaving prison, Mike spent some time volunteering with several organisations including the South Yorkshire Housing Association. Through this, he was introduced to the Nine One One Project, which provided accommodation and support to people dealing with substance and alcohol misuse, mental health problems or offending history. He began assisting on, then delivering, a weekly music session involving everything from listening and discussing music to lessons in basic DJing skills.

These formative experiences were part of many which helped to inform and lay the foundations for RiteTrax, a social enterprise set up by Mike and his long-time friend Adam Seymour in 2015. Two years later, alongside fellow directors Dalton Kershaw and Joe Vaughan, they self-funded the lease of a disused building in Castlegate, turning a former hair and nail salon into Plot 22, a proudly DIY venue which showcases some of the finest underground artists in the region and serves as a focal point for their work supporting vulnerable adults in Sheffield.

I saw the difference it makes, and it got me thinking about creating something that supported people in the same sort of way but based more around music and my background.

Their community work today includes regular ‘music drop-in sessions’ where people in recovery can come to learn a range of skills including DJing, music production and live jamming. Funded by South Yorkshire Housing Association, particpants are then given the opportunity to showcase what they’ve learned at the ‘Sober Socials’, an alcohol-free event providing a social setting to engage positively with music and club culture. Over the years, the team at RiteTrax have built up longstanding relationships with Sheffield-based drugs and alcohol support services and a key part of their offerings sees them regularly visit projects across the city where they provide music-based sessions to attendees.

“The sessions themselves are quite responsive to the people that come along,” explains Mike. “For example, someone might specifically say that they’d like to produce a drum and bass track, so we’ll provide the equipment and give one-to-one sessions on making that a reality. For others, it might be more of enjoying the social benefits of experiencing music in a group setting. And for some, it’s gone as far as providing a professional set-up at home and helping to get them DJ gigs around the town. We’ve seen first-hand how it can be a genuinely life-changing experience.”

As well as their projects supporting vulnerable adults in the community, they’ve also worked closely with young person’s charity The Prince’s Trust, who provided the support to help bring RiteTrax to life, with both Michael and Adam going on to volunteer as ‘Young Ambassadors’ in the earlier stage of their journey. To go full circle, last year saw the launch of a ‘Get Started with Music Production’ course, which has seen dozens of unemployed or low working hours young people working with experienced producers to create six original tracks at Plot 22.

Plot 22

Castlegate, where Mike transformed a former hair and nail salon into the home of Plot 22.

Whether it involves building confidence, providing a non-judgmental space for relaxation or connecting isolated individuals with a sense of community, the positive feedback and change witnessed first-hand has Mike and the team more determined than ever to plough forward with their impactful initiatives.

“We want to continue that provision,” says Mike. “We’ve reached, I’d say, over 100 core individuals with the recovery project now. Many people who suffer with drug and alcohol issues or mental health problems feel isolated and don’t engage with some of the services offered at all. We feel like we’re plugging a gap here, and we want to maintain that, to continue engaging with these people so that they don’t feel so alienated.”

The final ‘Sober Social’ events of this project run up to the end of March 2024, taking place on the last Friday of the month from 6pm-10pm

To find out more about what RiteTrax do, follow them on socials via @ritetrax and @plot22sheffield.

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