Journey Makers: How ECT in Cheshire brought music and memories to people living with dementia

February 19, 2019

Journey Makers: How ECT in Cheshire brought music and memories to people living with dementia image
Journey Makers: How ECT in Cheshire brought music and memories to people living with dementia

ECT Charity is on a mission to end loneliness and isolation.

We do this by enabling those who are unable to access mainstream transport to venture out of their homes: whether for a shopping trip or doctor’s appointment, or an excursion to the seaside.

There are lots of people who work hard to make these journeys possible. Our Journey Makers series shines a light on them – from our well-trained, caring drivers to the community members who organise transport for local groups.

It can be devastating to see someone you love struggling to find the right words, and yet this is what happens to thousands of families affected by dementia every day. However, a creative team of performers has found a way to unlock the memories of people with dementia and give them a voice through music – and ECT in Cheshire recently played a key part in helping families participate.

The Turtle Song Project is run jointly by Turtle Key Arts, the Royal College of Music and the English Touring Opera. It gives people living with dementia the chance to compose and perform with professional musicians.

ECT in Cheshire was delighted to provide transport for the touring initiative’s first stop in Cheshire last autumn, taking a minibus full of participants to the University of Chester campus.

Over the ten-week programme funded by Henry Smith Charity, 16 people with dementia and their carers joined a composer, musical director and music students to write a series of songs under the theme “Postcards from Chester”. At the end of the project, they performed these songs – which covered topics including the horse races, the river and the zoo – to family and friends.

This time in our Journey Makers series, we hear from Charlotte Cunningham, artistic director at Turtle Key Arts, and Deborah Thomas, Chester’s local Turtle Song Project co-ordinator, on how the project changes lives, and how community transport is integral to making it all happen.

Charlotte: “It’s not a very positive time in life when you are diagnosed with dementia, so the Turtle Song Project is finally something for people to look forward to.

“People tell us that the best thing about it is simply feeling that they exist, and people noticing when they talk. Music gives them a voice again during a period of life which can be very isolating.

“Families are very moved when they come to see the final performances. The daughter of a performer once told us: ‘I have not seen her smile like that for a long time: today she was my beautiful, intelligent, kind and caring, fun-loving mum again.’

“Over the years, I have been surprised to see a very positive response from people’s carers, too. As well as giving them a bit of respite, the carers find new ways of interacting, and realise the person is still there.

“Without community transport, many people just wouldn’t be able to get to the University campus in order to participate. Public transport isn’t an option for people who have dementia: it’s scary. So the fact that we can provide minibuses with drivers who can support our participants is great, and makes our project so much stronger.

“ECT in Cheshire’s drivers were helpful in every way, and even suggested new participants for the programme. It’s the drivers who are out and about in the community, so they know the vulnerable people, isolated at home, that we want to involve.

“I feel very strongly about community transport – I was a driver in the early days myself at Westway Community Transport in London! Most traditional transport companies would just shrug and say, ‘that’s not my business’, but community transport organisations really care. Once, a participant even composed a lyric about a “patient bus driver” – a reminder of how important community transport is for people who struggle getting about.”

Deborah: “Part of the ethos of the project is to make the people feel as welcome and at home as we can, because working in groups with people you don’t know can be daunting when you are living with dementia. My job involved welcoming them and offering them the nicest chocolate biscuits. I also checked in with people in-between sessions to make sure everything was okay.

“It was these little things that made people’s experiences seamless, and an accommodating transport service was a really important part of that. ECT in Cheshire was so helpful: if I needed someone picking up, I’d just ring.

“Seeing the performance at the end when everyone’s families came was very emotional. The children of those involved were so proud to see their parents doing something productive and creative. So, thank you to ECT in Cheshire for getting people there!”

For more information on the services we provide in Cheshire, please click here.

Categories: Cheshire, Journey Makers