Award-winning mentor aims to transform people’s lives through music in Leicester

20 May 2019 01:23 PM

An award-winning mentor from Leicester is aiming to transform the lives of people with complex needs through music, thanks to a boost of almost £185,000 from The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK.

Yasin El Ashrafi was named as the Prince’s Trust Mentor of the Year 2018 for supporting young people who had been out of education, employment and training for 12 months or more. Through his social enterprise, HQ CAN, he upskilled them in the music industry, improving their confidence, employability and optimism. Many have gone on to start their own businesses, perform at events and have their music played on the radio and showcased on Spotify.

His work was part of Talent Match, a £106 million UK-wide programme set up by The National Lottery Community Fund. Thanks to the new grant, Yasin will expand HQ CAN’s work and continue to give back to the community, by providing support to people of all ages with various needs.

Yasin El Ashrafi (centre)

Yasin El Ashrafi, Director at HQ CAN, recently said: 

“When I was younger, I spent a lot of my time in the wrong crowd – I was kicked out of school and got involved in drugs. I realised that I’d wasted so much of my life. I’ve always had entrepreneurial spirit and had a passion for music, so I decided to set up HQ Recording Studio, HQ Familia Record Label and HQ CAN.

“Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, we’ll be able to use music and the arts to re-engage people in Leicester and give them the opportunities to get to where they want to be. At HQ CAN we’ve got each other’s backs and believe in each other. A lot of the time, I’m supporting people with similar backgrounds and experiences to myself, inspiring them to dream for more and showing them that they can go from rock bottom to as high as they want to go.”

With the National Lottery funding, HQ CAN, based on Charles Street, will be transformed into a creative hub, where local people will be able to learn skills in singing, producing music, photography and filming music videos. There will also be internship opportunities for students and graduates, helping to increase their confidence and move them closer to employment.

The hub will open its doors five days a week, 1pm – 5pm, where people can socialise, meet new friends with similar interests and share their skills with each other, using music as a form of escapism.

Louis Browne, 23, from Leicester, has been supported by HQ CAN since September last year. He recently said: 

“I had a best friend who was like a big brother to me and a role model I looked up to. Just over three years ago, he killed himself. Seeing him deteriorate from a strong person had a bad effect on me. I lost my job and I got really badly into drinking. I was out of work, had no confidence and my anxiety was really bad.

“When I first came to HQ CAN, I couldn’t even make eye contact with people. Since then, my confidence has improved massively and I did my first performance in March. HQ CAN is such a positive place to go where there are likeminded people. It’s saved my life. I don’t know if I’d be here right now if it wasn’t for HQ CAN.”

Sian Horton, 25, from Leicester, first came to HQ CAN 18 months ago. She recently said:

I’ve always been musical - I think I sung before I could walk. I wrote my own songs and my aim was to get them professionally recorded, but I suffered with anxiety which made things quite difficult when performing. I was unemployed and trying to find some work. I’d lost my confidence in my skills and whether I was good enough because I’d been away from music for so long. Yasin gave me the confidence in myself again and made me realise that I am a big deal and I can do this.

“Leicester’s a very up and coming place musically at the moment. There’s lots of raw talent coming out of the city and I feel like HQ CAN is going to be a really good place for people.”

Matt Poole, Senior Head of Regional Funding for the Midlands at The National Lottery Community Fund, recently said: 

“We are delighted to be supporting HQ CAN, which will increase opportunities for people across Leicester to get involved in music and the arts. Thanks to National Lottery players, people who are experiencing problems such as anxiety and low self-esteem, will be empowered and inspired to thrive, raise their aspirations and reach their full potential.”

Jon Ashworth, MP for Leicester South, recently said: 

“I am very pleased that The National Lottery Community Fund has provided further funding to HQ CAN. I know Yasin works very hard to inspire young people and give back to the community.”

“Having visited HQ Recording Studio, I know that for a lot of young people this place gives much needed hope and encouragement to gain new skills and reach their full potential. I have no doubt that this grant will help Yasin to expand his work and support even more young people.”

The National Lottery Community Fund distributes money raised by National Lottery players for good causes. Last year a quarter of projects it invested in across the UK were designed to support improved mental wellbeing, and 3,500 projects were working to improve people’s skills. To find out more visit

Notes to Editors

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