With Music in Mind: Singing and social network group for older people expands

A singing and social networking group for older people in Cowbridge, Vale of Glamorgan, has recently expanded to other areas of South Wales, after celebrating success and marking its first anniversary.

‌The With Music in Mind Community Interest Company (CIC) was co-founded in May 2015 by research assistant Dr Sarah Miles, from Swansea University’s Centre for Innovative Ageing, who started the group on a voluntary basis with fellow co-founder and friend Kate Whitestone, a qualified physiotherapist.

With Music in MindDr Miles, from Mill Park in Cowbridge, began her role as a researcher on the Cognitive Function and Ageing Study (CFAS) at Swansea University’s College of Human and Health Sciences in November 2012.  Following training, she began interviewing older people in the community as part of her work.

During this time, Dr Miles spoke to a lot of older people about what they enjoy doing and several themes kept emerging, including the love of music, enjoying getting out and about, and often a lack of appropriate services to cater for their needs.

After attending a British Society of Gerontology conference in Southampton, where she extended her knowledge and networking experience of areas outside her usual subject area, Dr Miles listened to gerontologists discussing singing groups for those with dementia and this sparked an idea, in conjunction with what she had already heard from the research participants in the CFAS study.

“Background research showed evidence of a huge number of benefits for group singing, and some of these benefits are also found in social networking,” said Dr Miles (pictured).

“These include improved wellbeing, longer life expectancy, increased confidence, reduced stress, and many others found for people with certain diseases such as MS, Parkinson’s disease, or those who have had a stroke.

With Music in Mind - Dr Sarah Miles“My friend Kate and I had often been talking about how we wanted to do more with our careers, and also do something community-based.  When I approached her with the idea to start a singing and social networking community group she jumped at the chance.”

After researching the best way to achieve their goal, the team decided to form a CIC and on May 9, 2015, With Music in Mind was launched. 

“We advertised locally and began offering the groups to those over 60 years old and our first singing and social networking group was held on September 4, 2015 in Cowbridge – just over a year ago,” said Dr Miles.

“It was a great success and the group has been running each Friday ever since.  On Saturday, September 17, 2016, the Cowbridge group put on a concert for the community. This was a great success, the singing was wonderful and the event raised money and awareness for our cause.”

The group sessions consist of an hour of group singing, led by a qualified musical director, followed by an hour of social networking during which the group has refreshments.  The second half offers mini performances from singers, a violinist, and flautists, as well as dancing, hand massage, and talks from outside speakers. 

The group members put forward requests for what they would like to do in the second half, and also what they would like to sing in the first half and the With Music in Mind team try to arrange as many of their requests as they can.

With Music in Mind has expanded to offer its groups to those over 50 years old, with a new group in Barry, Vale of Glamorgan, and has been successful in an application for funding from the Postcode Community Trust to begin a pilot group in Neath, which the team hope to launch this Autumn.

“It will be beneficial to evaluate the whole service from setting up the groups, to running them, and to finding out the benefits from the service-users,” said Dr Miles.

With Music in Mind 3“Funding for an evaluation will allow us to provide evidence that what we’re doing really makes a difference, so we are applying to funders to make this a reality.‌

“The first year of our With Music in Mind initiative has been more successful than we could have hoped and we’ve all gained a tremendous amount of satisfaction and inspiration from the sessions – both Kate and I, and the group’s attendees, who are hugely enthusiastic about it. 

"We look forward to hopefully expanding our singing and social networking groups to support even more older people in the coming year.”

Dr Paul Nash, from the Centre for Innovative Ageing at Swansea University, said: “Dr Miles enthusiasm is infectious, clearly a quality that inspires those involved with the choir.

“This innovative approach bridges the gaps between academic research and the real world, showing how inspired research can become inspired practice to really make a difference.

“The ethos of the Centre is about improving the lives of older adults; Dr Miles has shown just how effectively this can be done with a little drive and determination.

“Music is a key part of Welsh culture and Dr Miles has shown how embracing culture and shared histories can enrich the lives of older adults within their own communities.”

The With Music in Mind Ball will take place on Friday, March 24, 2017 in the Bear Hotel, Cowbridge, and is the initiative’s major fundraiser and awareness raiser. The group also holds “sing along" evenings in Cowbridge town hall.

For more information visit http://www.withmusicinmind.co.uk/