This interview is part of our rapid review project, The New Normal: Delivering Your Services to Older People in 2021.
We spoke to Amina Hussain from String of Hearts community interest company to learn how they have adjusted to the lockdown. String of Hearts was set up just before the pandemic, in December 2019, to connect over 50’s in Trafford and Manchester through music-making. String of Hearts managed to run introductory music workshops at the Sale community hub before the first lockdown happened. The participants showed an interest in going online, even though none of them had ever used online technology before, and this is where String of Hearts’ journey through online music-making started.
Adjusting to lockdown: need to provide connections for isolated older adults
The aim of String of Hearts is to deliver activities locally. When lockdown hit it become even more important to connect with people in the local community who are isolated. The musicians taught group members how to use Zoom and learnt to adjust to an online way of making music. All members were willing to adapt and ever since, they have been meeting every two weeks.
The sessions are focused on creative music-making based on group members’ ideas, feelings and interests. Everything is co-produced with participants, and they guide how the engagement is delivered. Encouraging older adults to communicate their interests in a music session was designed to support them to use their voice outside the session too. Sale town centre in Trafford is currently undergoing a big refurbishment project and older people might want to have more say in how things are developing. String of Hearts wants to support people to have a say in the way the sessions are run as it might support their own voice as an influence of positive change, and have a say in what they’d like to see happen in the town centre and feel confident to remain an important part of their community too.
During the sessions members explore writing their own songs and music based on themes that interest them. For example, group members have written a ‘Lockdown Song’ to describe their experiences of the first national lockdown and to give hope and encouragement to other people who might be struggling. This Lockdown Song was shared on ITV News and multiple local radio stations. Group members don’t need to have any musical experience; the focus is on developing creative skills and sharing ideas together.
Addressing digital divide: creative music making over the phone
String of Hearts were aware that not everyone will have access to or don’t want to use internet or technology, and the lack of digital access can be a part of their social isolation. To provide a service for these groups within Trafford and Manchester, String of Hearts started a telephone music hotline, which is being socially prescribed by GP surgeries and Care Navigators as an alternative to clinical services.
These are one to one creative music making sessions delivered over the phone. In addition to music-making the sessions offer an opportunity to talk and express feelings as many of the participants are shielding and feel anxious about Covid and going outdoors. People expressing how they feel can also turn into lyrics, poetry or even opera.
There are currently 25 Hotline participants and the service is is growing. Not only are the participant numbers increasing but the team delivering the calls has grown to 4 musicians. Some of these participants might transition into the online group at some point, and after lockdown both online and telephone participants can attend the in-person sessions too.
Learning from these experiences
String of Hearts believes that everyone has creativity in them, it’s just a case of offering services to older adults in an accessible manner.
These are the ways String of Hearts addressed the lockdown challenge and what they learned from it:
- Just do it – just take a risk and try it.
- One thing that really helped us was to go on the journey together with the participants. We were really open and told them this is new territory to us as well. Utilise the skills of all participants, work together and be honest that you don’t know how this quite works but if we try, we could create something amazing together.
- Delivering activities remotely is not music making in the way as we had originally planned, but making music over the phone and online has a different type of immediacy. And it really works.
You can find more about String of Hearts on their website String of Hearts CIC.
You can read more about our project “The New Normal: Delivering Your Services to Older People in 2021”, and interviews with other organisations here.
We want to hear from other activity providers. If you work or volunteer with an organisation that delivers activities to older people, you can fill our survey here.