A broad arts programme celebrating the creative contribution of older people in society.
What we wanted to achieve
In 2014 Orchestras Live worked with Sinfonia Viva to develop a creative music project in four Essex care homes designed to improve the social interaction of residents, reduce loneliness and encourage more positive perceptions of the creative abilities of older people in their communities. Song-writing workshops were led by music leader Sam Glazer, which culminated in a public performance at Colchester Arts Centre sharing the new songs created by the participants.
Following this pilot activity, in 2017, the first Creative Journeys project was born. It was part of a broader arts programme taking place in Brentwood, including an associated strand of academic evaluation by Anglia Ruskin University researching the impact of arts activity on social interaction between older people and care workers in the homes and their wider communities.
Creative Journeys developed in collaboration with Sinfonia Viva as a project format using the arts as a way of supporting isolated and vulnerable people, where participants could actively engage in a creative process through a series of workshops; composing new songs celebrating aspects of their lives, past and present.
In the first Creative Journeys project in Brentwood in 2017, new pieces created during the creative process were orchestrated so they could be sung by the participants alongside Sinfonia Viva in a performance attended by a large audience of carers, family and friends.
I felt moved to write…. Elderly people have little or no chance of live orchestral music and to be part of the team producing such an experience is truly uplifting, as well as stimulating and unforgettable… the atmosphere today was one of warmth, camaraderie and passion, and I sincerely hope you will be able to do many more of these events to help elderly people make the most of their latter years.
~ Care home staff member
Research undertaken during the first Creative Journeys project in Brentwood*, Essex, in 2017 by Anglia Ruskin University found the following outcomes:
- Positive impact on relationships between care home residents, between care home residents and staff, and between care home residents and relatives.
- Potential to break down barriers between those living in care homes and the wider community, through participatory arts activities.
- The unique qualities of the arts, engaged residents and enabled them to express themselves creatively, build on their strengths and abilities as well as make meaningful contributions to their relationships and their communities.
- The project facilitated an opportunity for collaboration between participatory arts organisations with shared values and approaches, with promising implications for joint working in the future.
In 2019, the artistic team of Sinfonia Viva musicians led by composer Sam Glazer worked with local care home residents, care staff, and people living with dementia and family carers at a Memories Café in Hadleigh, Suffolk, listening to music and creating a new song inspired by the sea. The groups then came together to give a public performance of the music they had created alongside the orchestra and baritone soloist Thomas Mole.
Each and every one of the 17 residents that I brought to the performance benefited from being involved and I think that it is a huge testament to the power of music for those with dementia as 99% of our residents that came along yesterday suffer from this condition and they were all captivated and attentive when often they would often be fidgety and agitated in some cases.
~ Leanne, Activities Manager at Squirrels Residential Home
As an effective model relevant to older people and their carers, Creative Journeys continues to be replicated and developed through other Orchestras Live partnerships including in South Holland, Lincolnshire. It is also at the heart of more sustained, long-term projects Orchestras Live has planned for communities in Suffolk, and a multi-faceted project in Essex where older people and carers will become part of a company of creators and performers, working alongside a range of artists, all underpinned by academic research.
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At the start of 2020, plans were in place for developed strands of Creative Journeys to begin with partners in South Holland in Lincolnshire, Babergh in Suffolk and Broadland in Norfolk. As a result of the pandemic, project delivery had to be drastically reconsidered and digital was not a suitable option due to lack of technological infrastructure available in the care settings where participants were based and, at that time, shielding. To address the need for creative activity that could not be delivered online or in person, Extraordinary Arts Packs were created and distributed across South Holland, Babergh, Mid Suffolk and Broadland in spring and summer 2021.
In the next stage of activity, participants' creative responses to these art packs are being collected and celebrated in live performances now that it is becoming possible gather and meet with our participants in person again. A new project in Essex called This Happy Place will take these activities further to support some of the county’s most vulnerable people who have been - and still are - experiencing isolation due to the pandemic, by strengthening relationships, sharing experiences and learning new skills.
These projects have been produced through collaborations between Orchestras Live, Sinfonia Viva and local partners: Essex County Cultural Development, Babergh & Mid Suffolk District Council, Broadland District Council, Hadleigh Dementia Action Alliance and South Holland District Council.
*The orchestral projects in Essex were part of a wider Creative Journeys programme celebrating the creative contribution of older people in society, which includes parallel strands of work by Green Candle Dance, Age Exchange and Magic Me.