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Can community singing improve your health? Experts to explore idea

PUBLISHED: 19:00 26 September 2019 | UPDATED: 09:33 30 September 2019

Peter Thompson Picture: MATT JOLLY

Peter Thompson Picture: MATT JOLLY

Matt Jolly

Experts from around the country will gather at the world famous Snape Maltings next week to discuss how the benefits of community singing and music can be made available on prescription.

Snape Maltings Picture: PHILIPVILE.COMSnape Maltings Picture: PHILIPVILE.COM

The project is part of the "social prescribing" being rolled out across the country - where doctors can prescribe exercise and mental activities for patients to help their recovery and wellbeing.

Link-workers support patients to help to find gardening clubs, befriending services, and singing groups.

Physical exercise has also been prescribed - with 13 GP surgeries across east Suffolk having signed up to be 'parkrun practices', with doctors able to prescribe their patients exercise, often in the form of a parkrun, over medicine, where appropriate.

Now more emphasis is set to be given to the benefits of singing on people's minds and general wellbeing - with singing said to be able to strengthen the immune system, help with both mental alertness and sleep, act as a natural anti-depressant and lower stress levels.

Tricia Bradbrook Picture: MATT JOLLYTricia Bradbrook Picture: MATT JOLLY

National policymakers and clinicians will meet at Snape to discuss 'Singing on prescription: what do we need to be ready?', one in a series of Creative Thinktanks being held at the concert hall to explore the role of music in health and wellbeing.

Scientists say there is growing evidence that singing can have a positive effect on physical and mental wellbeing. Snape Maltings has long been leading the way with community singing, encouraging more members of the community to seek the connectivity and uplifting qualities of group singing activities.

People living with Parkinson's have found it particularly beneficial.

Phillipa Reive, director, Creative Campus at Snape Maltings, said, "2019 has been the year that the NHS has really got behind the idea of 'social prescribing' and is recruiting new workers to help link people with schemes which are right for them, through their GP practice.

"This means many more people will soon have the opportunity to access our community singing and music schemes here at Snape, and at other arts organisations across the East of England and around the UK.

"As one of the world's leading centres for music we see it as our responsibility to help everybody involved in arts and health get ready for this change, so that nobody misses out on the opportunity to enhance their health through music and creative engagement.

"This Thinktank is the first of its kind in the UK, and we are proud to welcome so many stakeholders to Snape to move this discussion forward."

Bev Taylor, NHS lead on social prescribing, is attending the Thinktank.

She said, "I'm excited to be taking part in the Snape Maltings Thinktank on social prescribing. I'm particularly looking forward to thinking creatively together with a range of partners about how we can enable more people to sing for wellbeing, and how we can ensure that local groups provide good quality, safe, sustainable support to communities through social prescribing.

"The creative space of Snape Maltings is perfect for these Thinktank meetings that encourage collaboration and support the process of working together for wellbeing. It's great that Snape is taking the initiative, bringing people together to build this social prescribing movement. We need more opportunities like this."

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Louise Hardwick, head of partnerships for NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group, said: "East Suffolk is certainly at the forefront of championing and implementing social prescribing as an effective way of supporting people to enjoy physically and mentally well lives. At the heart of social prescribing is the understanding that medicine from the doctor isn't always the answer. Accessing new opportunities, making new friends and being able to express oneself through arts participation can boost a person's wellbeing, restore their confidence and greatly improve their life.

"This Creative Thinktank event is a really special opportunity to understand what more we can collectively achieve."

Director of training at Sing to Beat Parkinson's, Nicola Wydenbach said: "Snape has historically been a leading light in community music beginning with the work of Benjamin Britten. It is the perfect place for all the leading players in the social prescribing movement to come together to figure out the best way of delivering this work."

Tricia's story:

One of the most successful community projects at Snape Maltings this year has been the summer residency HerStory: The Catchpole Chronicles - a new operatic work for performers living with Parkinson's.

Following a public performance, the project has been asked to perform the work at the Royal Opera House in July 2020.

One of the cast, Tricia Bradbrook, who is living with Parkinson's, is a great advocate for both dance and singing for Parkinson's and talks eloquently about the positive impact taking part in creative activities and community singing has had on her life.

A member of East Suffolk Skylarks, which she discovered through contacts on a Dance for Parkinson's course at Dance East in Ipswich, she has found singing to be wonderfully therapeutic.

She feels that taking part makes her feel "elated" and her Parkinson's can be forgotten for a while.

Peter's story:

Peter Thompson, 75, from Woodbridge, was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease seven years ago and has been part of the Skylarks Sing to Beat Parkinson's group at Snape Maltings for two years.

He believes joining a community singing group can be "life-changing".

He said, "I have got so much out of attending the singing group. It may surprise people but there is lots of evidence that singing may actually make people with Parkinson's stronger, it is known to be good for balance and overall strength, as well as strengthening the vocal chords, which are quite often weakened in people with Parkinson's disease.

"I have a stronger and more confident voice as a result of my singing! It is also a wonderful morale booster when you are a little bit down, as you often can be when you have a difficult health condition to live with. Many people in the group really benefit from the social contact and the sense of community.

"I think introducing singing on prescription is a very sensible idea and Snape Maltings is the perfect organisation to lead the way with this. The work they do is marvellous."

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