National Centre for Early Music

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What works and why?

A summary of the roundtable discussions, focusing on what works about existing provision and why:


Provision is thought to work best if it is:
  • Accessible/inclusive - cheap/free, not needing to have prior experience/read notation, no audition, inclusive of all abilities, locality of project and not having to travel too far.
  • Confidence-building - a sense of validation and pride - a chance to re-identify with yourself, gives people a purpose.
  • Fun, motivating, relaxed, informal. Not focused on "getting the singing right" but about "finding where you fit in"
  • Social, about relationships - space for peer learning and collaboration, and space for carers/family to be involved too, a space where people can "forget their statuses and just get together as humans". Being with other people and feeling the same things at the same time.
  • In a trusting and safe environment with a familiar and stable venue, non-threatening approaches, acceptance as a core value. Equality is vital.
  • Resilient, regular and consistent provision available (but without the expectation that participants will be able to commit weekly) 
  • Lead by a good, professional facilitator with inspirational leading. Leaders who are committed and stable. 
  • Participant-centred - ideas and input and shaping the content together - not being 'delivered to'. Interactive and sharing of ideas.
  • Focused on musical progress - "about growing". Signposting to other opportunities is key - taking up formal courses where appropriate for the individual.
There was divided opinion on whether arts offers worked best when specifically created as "Arts for Mental Health". Some said: "Arts are best when they are health-focused" and when they provide "an open-minded space where it is ok to talk about mental illness" and where people can "connect with their emotions (all of them!) and express them". Some people actively sought an environment in which they could "get together and work through problems as well as make music - no judgement". Other people felt differently, saying that it is best to keep the health benefits as a "side effect". One person said "I want to focus on the activity and not on my problems" and another said "focus should be on activity not on ill health" and another added "it's best when it's not labelled as arts for mental health". Someone else said "it's better when it's not associated with formal services".

These approaches were mentioned as being particularly suitable:
  • Cross-cultural work is often good - other societies around the world are often better at 'community' and blending singing and movement than we are in the West
  • Singing is a great choice of activity as it is a great leveller 
  • Involving movement and light exercise as part of singing sessions works very well too
  • Work in communal environments such as residential homes can have particular benefit
This advice was given:
  • Allow time for provision and relationships to develop and don't rush it - "it takes time to build and make change"
  • "It would be great if we could get better at getting the word out to people in hospitals when they are in desperate situations and need to know where they can turn for help" - although it was also said on a different table that "it is vital to point people in the right direction BEFORE they ever have to enter a hospital environment because of mental illness - preventative use of the arts"
  • As well as focusing on the participants, it is also important to give chance for professionals to have a network, share skills and resources.