THE SEASIDE SINGERS
The Covid Pandemic was for many of us a time of sadness and loss but also of moments of joy and community. Lockdown increased social isolation and loneliness and deepened and entrenched loneliness and struggle. The community responded with practical help, kindness and creative ways to help isolated and isolating people feel connected. The response from the community as a whole was inspiring and many people told us they wanted to keep those friendships and that sense of connection we’d built. (NBCC CER Report)
Seaside Singers was the idea of Khlayre Cairney from the North Berwick Community Resilience Team (CER Team). Between March and July 2020, the team supported around 150 vulnerable older people and staff and residents in local care homes and residential housing for older people. In North Berwick people needed practical help, to feel valued and part of the community. Community responses were inspiring, creating many acts of kindness and moments of togetherness. A friendly face in tough times.
We wanted to build on these important friendships and bring joy into the lives of older people in the town who had been isolated for many months and were likely to be isolating for months to come. Khlayre built on the work of Linda Digney and the CER team who took essentials, treats and the gift of kindness to older and isolated people round the town.
We wanted to run real world concerts, including with Fringe by the Sea. However, lockdown and staying safe meant we had to stay online. We drew on work by Maya Howell from DFELon Digital Inclusion and worked closely with Rhona Taylor, a long-standing supporter of Dementia Friendly East Lothian, who helped to set up Dementia Friendly Haddington. Rhona developed high quality recordings which we shared widely. We are very grateful to Rhona for all that she did not the project.
Seaside Singers was funded by the North Berwick Trust Ltd, hosted and supported by Dementia Friendly East Lothian. Maya from DFEL was working on the Celebrating Communities Project, funded by the Life Changes Trust. DFEL is funded by East Lothian Health and Social Care Partnership.
Khlayre designed Seaside Singers to:
- Bring fun and laughter to older people who experienced social isolation
- Give older people a ‘look forward’ and something to share with friends and family
- Bring the community together, in particular, to include isolated older people in care and communal housing
- Celebrate and support unpaid and paid carers, managers and others who went above and beyond to support people in lockdown
- Support local artists and performers who bring much happiness to older people in our community, who missed performing and had lost income.
We wanted to do more than entertain, valuable though that is. The project was designed to overcome barriers that keep people apart. Events were designed to be accessible to all ages and challenge stigma and negative attitudes round dementia, ageing and disability.
Khlayre selected acts that would encourage people to get online. Music is a powerful way to bring people together, connecting people to important memories. Participation is flexible – people can listen, join in or lead. Khlayre also provided additional support to oil the digital wheels – liaising with staff, delivering paper song sheets. Staff in care homes and housing worked with us to make the events meaningful and ensure that everyone could join in. We got considerable and much appreciated support from across the community. Their role made a huge difference. Please see Annex 2 below for more information.
Seaside Memories was developed to deepen participation, using the words and memories of people in local care homes and the Day Centre to create music and a poem.
THE MAGIC OF MUSIC
Khlayre focussed on music for its therapeutic benefits, ‘portability’ and accessibility, especially when working online. Music:
- can bring us together as equals
- has therapeutic benefits for people with dementia and care-partners (and others)
- is accessible, going beyond words, to feelings and deep levels of experience
- can be shared in many different ways
- helps us access and share meaningful memories and create new ones
- can create human bonds at a deep embodied level, and link to spiritual experience
- brings opportunities to be involved as listeners, participants, creators and performers.
INVOLVING OLDER PEOPLE IN COMMUNITY LIFE
All three North Berwick care homes, two owner-occupied housing for older people, the North Berwick Day Centre, Abbeyfield Court and Leuchie House worked with Khlayre to design and deliver events. Two other organisations were keen to get involved but were unable to due to lack of digital access, space or staff time. Three organisations did not reply.
Both Primary Schools and the High School wanted to be part of the programme, but pressures of managing during Covid meant this wasn’t possible in the timescale.
The community response was inspiring, many people were keen to get involved because of their experiences during lockdown. We have many people to thank for making this project work. Including:
- The NB Street Links, a key group during lockdown, helped us contact performers and community support.
- Performers waived or reduced fees.
- Law Primary School pupils were backing singers and dancers for Bluetile.
- Fidra Electronics gave their time and skills to support the Bluetile Band and other parts of the project. Might also be worth mentioning that Fidra stayed on that day to record some of Bluetile’s own songs for them to use as a demo.
- Rhona & Kelvin from KR Photography in Haddington provided images, did the videos, provided IT support and helped us to put the recordings together.
- Vivienne (Gran) allowed Bluetile to record in her garden so they could perform safely with social distancing and a safe controlled outdoor environment.
- Vivienne also opened up her garden to a day of performance with neighbours and friends spaced out safely to create what can only be described as a mini festival for the band.
- Bonzo Arts and Linda Fisher, local artists, gave us access to images for free.
THE SEASIDE SINGERS PROGRAMME
Khlayre ran six monthly performances. Each began with a welcome and vocal warm up from Martha Middlemiss, a local musician and singer. We were very fortunate to draw on very talented and much loved performers working in North Berwick and beyond. We are so grateful to them for their enthusiasm and support.
You can see the full programme is HERE.
MARCH – LAUNCHING SEASIDE SINGERS
We began with a veritable cornucopia of performers. You can see the performance HERE.
Penny Stone is a songleader, teacher, singer and composer, working with community singing groups and radical music groups. Penny also uses singing to support people living with conditions like Parkinson’s and dementia.
Bruce Davies is an award winning singer who has performed round the world with his rich voice and acoustic guitar. Bruce is well known to many of us in East Lothian, with performances in Care Homes, Day Centres and community settings.
The Merlin Academy of Traditional Music in North Berwick – are passionate about offering first class Music Tuition to all ages and abilities within a safe, friendly environment.
Martha Middlemiss is a singer and creative practitioner. She worked with North Berwick and Dunbar Day Centres to create JUST SING! a six-track album celebrating and showcasing the innate creativity of older adults. The lyrics and melodies were created by Day Centre Members.
The North Berwick Day Centre is all about improving the quality of life for older people who live independently in and around North Berwick. It’s in the centre of the North Berwick community; it’s a place to make new friends and keep in touch with old ones.
APRIL – ELVIS COMES TO NOTH BERWICK
In April Elvis was definitely in the building – at least on Zoom. Ken D Presley is the King in the Cabin and as Elvis performs regularly in local day centres, care homes and celebrations for all ages. Uh Hu. :-). You can see the performance HERE.
MAY – MEMORIES OF VE DAY
In May, Sarah Laing gave a concert of songs from the 1940s. Sarah is a vintage inspired singer from Edinburgh specialising in music from the 40s,50s & 60s. She performs in care homes, day centres & social groups and has an interest in how music can help people with dementia. Sarah gave a tribute to VE day and bringing war to an end, an opportunity to remember our own and family memories – happy and sad. The link is HERE.
JUNE – CELEBRATING CARERS
In June, we welcomed back Penny Stone, Martha Middlemiss, Peter Martin and the North Berwick Day Centre with a poem called ‘Lifeline’. We were also joined by the Abbey Church of Scotland Choir.
The Abbey Church of Scotland Choir is a regular choir of around 10 members. They sing in church and community events. New members who would like to support the choir are always welcome!The performance link is HERE.
JULY – LINKING THE GENERATIONS
In July we welcomed local band Bluetile – a four-piece indie band formed in North Berwick. They are known for their exciting live shows and have gained a strong local following. Bluetile have been described as ‘pretty good’ :-). Their performance is HERE.
SEPTEMBER – THE GRAND FINALE: SEASIDE MEMORIES
Our final performance was by Penny Stone singing ‘Warm Sand Memories’ a song woven from local memories and sung by Penny. You can see the performance and hear the poem HERE.
The Warm Sand Song
I went to the beach with my sister and brother
Made sandcastles there with my father and mother
I walked on the sand with my own darling lover
Always something beautiful there to discover
Warm sand in my toes
And cold water splashing my clothes
Sea salt in the air
And plenty of picnic to share
I swam in the sea with my son and my daughter
We paddled and splashed and we played in the water
We searched in the rock pools for wonderful creatures
The sand and the sea were our friends and our teachers
I sat on the beach with my family and neighbours
We built a braw fire and made friends out of strangers
The seagulls above us they dived for our pieces
As ice-cream cones melt, all our pleasure increases
As above and repeat
Chorus – repeat
And plenty of picnic to share
WHAT WE LEARNT
Support from paid staff and unpaid carers made this project work and increased impact
This project could not have succeeded without the active support, creativity and skill of paid and unpaid carers and housing managers. We knew from our resilience work and Celebrating Communities that connecting people with digital events involves much more than just giving people a tablet; it needs a friendly face and wiling hands to make it work (see HERE).
In many places, staff put considerable time, thought and creativity to help make the project work for the people they supported. The Seaside Memories, which grew out of this project was developed by a care home activity coordinator and resident. Supportive helpers helped us design better, more meaningful events. They had direct face to face contact with people and know them well so could help each person participate and make it meaningful for them.
- made the link with residents/members, letting them know about events, spreading the word and encouraging and motivating people to join in;
- provided safe, communal spaces where people could come together and/or get practical help;
- provided essential, personalised support so that people with cognitive, manual dexterity, visual or other problems could participate;
- Helped people find personal meaning and relevance by making links with their own history and preferences;
- Enabled families to connect with the events and stories that emerged and recordings.
Oiling the wheels and providing a bit of extra help enabled staff to do more
Through the project we gave paid and unpaid carers, activity coordinators and managers resources that helped them do their work. The monthly videos gave people content, a reason for coming together. Delivering printed songsheets saved staff time and resources and meant they were available to everyone. We were there to answer questions and proved whatever help we could.
These resources helped staff do their work with residents/Members and with families and unpaid carers. For example, we provided a simple prompt-sheet to help people talk about events when families and friends came to visit. This enabled people to share their stories and made it easier for staff and carers. By printing and delivering paper songsheets, we gave staff time and resources to engage more easily with the project and reduced additional workloads for busy people.
One powerful example was the was round paper songsheets. By printing off and delivering song sheets we were able to increase participation and meaning. Staff appreciated having paper copies they could use flexibly resource and creatively to meet different needs. Paper is tangible, familiar, tactile. Some older people felt more confident and able to join in with the words in front of them; for others simply holding the song sheet, just like everyone else, connected them to the activity. A simple piece of paper could help create or enhance a sense of inclusion, participation and togetherness. One lady was unable to read the words on the sheet, but holding the sheet connected her to the activity.
It’s all about relationships
Seaside Singers built on long standing the CER team and DFEL have with carers, coordinators and managers. Khlayre worked directly with managers and care staff from almost all the care and housing organisations for older people in North Berwick. She found the link with DFEL and the North Berwick Community Council Emergency Resilience team and the North Berwick Trust smoothed the way and opened doors.
These connections gave people confidence and comfort that the project was credible and valued by the community. Khlayre built on these foundations and could tap into DFEL’s expertise on dementia to make small ‘tweaks’ that increased the meaningfulness and therapeutic value of events abd built relationships.
By working with people who know older people well and supporting their work, we were able to make the project accessible and meaningful to everyone. Making this about the whole community – all ages – also built relationships and community relationships.
Problems & Barriers
Lack of staff resources
Not all paid carers and managers had time to provide support even though they wanted to. Staff changes and turnover undermined communication with is and organisations and could also affect the ability of people to participate. consistency. Some of this was about roles rather than resources. Some n residential settings, not all managers/organisations saw this type of activity as part of their core role.
Hard-wired digital exclusion
In some communal housing/care there was no or very limited wi fi and digital connectivity for individuals and/or communal spaces.
Lack of accessible communal spaces
Some buildings had no communal spaces for people to get together or to receive practical help. Others had closed them due to covid or lack of staff.
Assumptions and attitudes
Talking about ‘dementia’ put some people off joining in, they assumed it would not be suitable for them or didn’t want people to think they had dementia. We came across instances of assumptions that older people would not be interested in or able to access digital events because of their age.
This project was inspired by how communities rallied round and supported each other in Covid and built on what they achieved. Lockdown made us more aware of how isolated people in communal housing and care can be separated from the community. We could make connections with a bit of help from managers, paid staff and carers who could make the links. Importantly, they knew what help and support each person needed to join in and how to make events extra special and meaningful. The events provided motivation and a source of joy and connection.
The community responded magnificently, with offers and support and encouragement all round – from performers to gardens. People know they were part of the community and everyone benefitted.
Many of the barriers can be overcome by helpful people, others need to be addressed by raising awareness and understanding to challenge harmful attitudes and stigma. For example, challenging assumptions about age and tackling stigma , for ageism and dementia. These attitudes and assumptions can become hard wired. For example, lack of wi fi or digital access in a building, lack of safe communal space for people to get together and lack of resources to support people to participate in the life of the community. People in communal housing/care had less direct control of their own environments and this could make it hard for us to connect with people. Decisions about planning, building and design of housing for older people can make a significant impact on social isolation.
Thank you to the community in North Berwick, every person who helped isolated older people in our community reconnect after so many months apart, there performers and the ‘crew’ especially Rhona and Kevin who made the videos for us. Thank you to the North Berwick Trust, Life Changes Trust and East Lothian Health and Social Care Partnership for their funding and support for links can be made.
We hope you enjoy the performances, the songs and poems and that at some point, we can sing these together.
Sue & Khlayre