>>Listen to the 25-minute podcast – Music, making connections, and mental health: insights from Carer’s Music Fund
Since September 2019, Spirit of 2012’s Carers’ Music Fund projects have been engaging female carers across the UK in music activities with the aim of reducing loneliness; improving their mental health and wellbeing; and challenging gendered perceptions of caring. This podcast is part of a series of insight reports on the wellbeing benefits of participatory music-making activities.
You can read the initial insights report and a practice example of music-making projects during lockdown. As part of the learning partnership for the Fund, we knew that evaluation reports and briefings aren’t always enough to show the varied experience and context of each project. We wanted to give a voice to the people who design and run the music-making sessions, as well as those who take part. Podcasts are a great way to capture the varied experience and context of each of the CMF projects. The stories and experiences shared have given us insight into how these projects are making a difference in the lives of women carers.
The conversations highlighted for me some key ways that the sessions were making a difference, each with a common thread linking music-making and singing to wellbeing:
- in breaking down boundaries between individuals
- nurturing sisterhood and sharing common experiences
- challenging stereotypes about women carers
- and connecting people through technology.
“Less of a ‘join in’ feel good, and more of a ‘learn a new skill’ feel good”
One key insight from the Fund has been that there are a range of different pathways that can lead to wellbeing through music making.
For many of the women, the social aspects of the session – connecting on a personal level with others in similar positions – was key to wellbeing. Being able to share and voice their frustrations, as Peter from My Pockets noticed, was a way to connect with each other and validate their experiences.
Laura, from Jack Drum Arts, told us that different music-making activities led to wellbeing through different mechanisms. Singing was the great leveller, she said. It helps people connect with each other, and ‘hurries along friendships’.
As with song writing, singing together means people open up and talk to each other from the beginning, while the creative process breaks down barriers to connection.
Drumming together brought a different type of connection, as the women saw that their contribution, added to that of others, built up a whole. Learning to play the ukulele was a third way to feeling good, by helping build a personal sense of achievement.
So, there’s no single route or reason why making music together can improve wellbeing and reduce loneliness – which is great news for music projects that take different approaches. Whether it’s the opportunity to connect with others like us, or the time and support to learn an instrument, or the sense of contributing to a bigger story – making music together can support people to feel better.
“Babies are a great leveller”
For TJ, from Fèis Rois, the shared experience of parenting broke down barriers between the women attending her Lullaby Sessions. Whether they were distanced by language, culture or geography, she felt that women could reach out to each other because of their shared understanding of infant care and motherhood.
The sense of sisterhood and nurturing also helped connect the women participants with the musicians who led the session, which was an unexpected experience for TJ.
“We’re not angels”
Song writing can also help challenge stereotypes of women carers, and gives them a rare opportunity to raise their voice about their experiences.
Peter from My Pockets describes how carers of severely disabled children have embraced the songwriting sessions as a way to voice their frustration and anger. The project is a creative outlet to express themselves, and also a way to challenge gendered expectations of carers as ‘selfless and mumsy’.
“Everyone feels like they’ve been locked down, but […] my world has opened up”
Lockdown has been incredibly hard for carers in the UK, with most of them having to provide more care to their loved ones, with less respite. But being able to take part in music-making activities has still been possible over zoom and other virtual platforms. Although online music activities can’t really replace coming together in person, there have been some unexpected benefits to moving online.
Gina, who took part in the My Pockets ‘Monster Extraction’ project, says that she’s been able to attend even if her caring support plans fall through at the last minute.
Laura, from Jack Drum Arts, has also seen this in her project. Some carers might not have been able to leave their loved ones to travel and attend a session away from home – so for some of these carers, moving online has meant a valuable new connection to the outside world.
This insight is likely to lead to lasting change in the way the projects work. All of the projects I talked to were planning to incorporate virtual sessions into future plans, even once lockdown is lifted for everyone.
This podcast provides rich insights into the context of three projects, but also has some practical advice for similar projects who are planning music activities in the future.
The Carers’ Music Fund was made possible by funding that Spirit of 2012 received from the Tampon Tax Fund, awarded through the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. The Tampon Tax Fund was set up to allocate the money generated from the VAT on sanitary products to projects that improve the lives of disadvantaged women and girls.
Thank you to Peter and Sally Snelling from My Pockets, and Gina who took part in the sessions; Laura Emerson from Jack Drum Arts; Teya-Jean Bawden from Fèis Rois; and Ruth Hollis from Spirit of 2012.
Listen to the 25-minute podcast