This interview is part of our rapid review project, The New Normal: Delivering Your Services to Older People in 2021.
Made By Mortals is run by Andy Smith and Paul Hine, a composer and theatre maker duo, and is based at Guide Bridge Theatre in Tameside. Prior to lockdown Made By Mortals delivered music theatre projects in collaboration with two core groups: an over 55s group (Hearts & Minds) and adults with experience of mental health illnesses and learning difficulties (The Johnny Barlow Theatre Company). Over a series of weekly workshops, these groups would create, rehearse and produce original shows, and tour them to schools, sheltered housing units, theatres and conferences throughout Greater Manchester.
Made By Mortals utilise a participatory approach to the creation and making of all their shows. All work is co-produced with their participants and their core aim is to ‘ring people’s experience to life’ through immersive music theatre, film and now podcasts. Pre lockdown both of their core groups would meet up once a week to do a music and drama, workshop and create material for whatever show they were working on at the time. The over 55s group create original music theatre for children, and the sessions with the Johnny Barlow Theatre Company, have a more a social change mission to the work.
We spoke to Andy in late 2020 to hear about how they have adjusted their services during lockdown, focusing on the older adults group, Hearts & Minds.
How lockdown changed Made By Mortal’s work
The people that Made By Mortals work with are vulnerable, many with long-term health conditions. When it became clear that lockdown would start, the Made By Mortals team educated themselves about Zoom technology and started off by providing phone calls to the people they worked with to check that everyone was doing okay. These calls then developed into Zoom calls for those that could use it.
There were issues with people’s equipment and access to technology, as well as getting help with how to use these new resources. Made By Mortals were able to fund web phones and webcams to those who were able access Zoom meetings, and a free phone number to participants without WiFi to join the Zoom calls. They also offered an option to participate over the phone in one-to-one sessions if the Zoom option wasn’t appropriate.
During the weekly sessions, the groups have continued to create music theatre but it is now broadcasted through a podcast. The over 55s group have a project called Armchair Adventures, aimed at children, in which the listeners go on a journey of their imagination inspired by the older people’s hobbies, pastimes and the things they have done lockdown (you can listen to the podcasts here, and also find guidance about how to listen to podcasts if you are not familiar with them).
When the podcast was launched, Made By Mortals delivered an inter-generational online workshop to over 1,000 children, connecting school bubbles with the older people who had created the work. Armchair Adventures now has over 11,000 listens and there is a new episode coming out monthly.
Made By Mortals have also prepared an activity pack with the older people that is being distributed to care homes throughout the country. It comes with a free personal MP3 player/CD, and drama, music and movement games so residents can create their own Armchair Adventures.
Delivering activities online has been a team effort, in two different ways. Made By Mortals worked together with the over 55s attending the group, and while some did struggle with the technology, Andy observes how they were resilient and happy to try new things:
“Their adaptability and resilience is what has really struck me with this. Things went wrong and I didn’t know how to use Zoom before March and regardless of age everyone has been in the same boat. Because of our relationship with them we made jokes about and ‘We are all in this together’ kind of thing and to stick at it and know that we will get there in the end. It was really pleasing.“
Also, because Made By Mortals is run by a small team, they have been able to adjust quickly and be flexible in how they run their services in the changing circumstances:
“We have totally adapted and because we are a small team that has been a strength but I can imagine for some really big organisations who have furloughed staff it could be very challenging to be as flexible and adaptable in their approach but we could do that really quickly.”
Advice to other organisations
Made By Mortals offer two key pieces of advice:
- Try things and work with the people attending your group to find the answer collectively:
“Our main advice is it to experiment with the people in your group. All our decisions have been made collectively with the groups.”
- Make services accessible, and making sure also those who do not have internet access can attend:
“The big thing was the free phone number and without that we would have lost a lot of our participants. We have a better retention now than we did before lockdown! Make it as accessible as possible, sometimes the simple things have a massive impact. “
You can find more about Made By Mortals on their website.
You can read more about our project “The New Normal: Delivering Your Services to Older People in 2021”, and interviews with other organisations here.