When local volunteer and musician Chloe Edwards-Wood read a book about the power of music, she was inspired to organise socially distant performances for Lewisham borough’s vulnerable and shielding residents.
The project, called Give A Song, was set up last month and aims to reach those isolating as a result of the virus. Edwards-Wood has teamed up with Goldsmiths Community Centre in Catford to promote the initiative to community networks including care homes, social landlords and befriending organisations to help identify those who could benefit from a little doorstep cheer.
As well as working with local agencies for referrals, the team is welcoming nominations from individuals via its website. In its first few weeks, the musicians have given 26 live performances on doorsteps in Catford, Lewisham, Forest Hill and Sydenham. They’ve performed an eclectic mix of residents’ favourite songs, from Bob Marley and Ella Fitzgerald to Amy Winehouse and George Harrison.
Edwards-Wood said reading How Music Can Make Us Better reminded her of how music lights up the brain, takes us back to happier times, and has been shown to be important for those living with mental challenges or dementia: “I’m really pleased it is reaching the people I wanted it to reach,” she said. “Seeing how music can move people and take people back to a time when they were happy, or hear a song that really means something to them is really heartwarming.”
Local musicians were invited to volunteer through social media and word of mouth, and have received hygiene and social distancing training from Goldsmiths Community Centre to ensure the safety of everyone involved.
The project has attracted musicians from a range of backgrounds, including academy teachers, part-time guitar tutors and those who enjoy performing in their spare time. Annie Roper, a drama and dance teacher, got involved after lockdown paused her work. “One of the things I missed in my everyday life was singing every day,” she said.
She added that the performances aren’t just for the nominee; neighbours watch out of windows or from their front doors. “Not only is it a lovely thing to sing for somebody because you know they’re getting something out of it, we as musicians and performers are getting a huge amount out of it. It’s nice to be part of the community and to give back,” she said.
Sulaiman Meer has also volunteered as a singer for the project. “I work in IT for a living, but this has been one of the most moving and beneficial things. Putting a smile on people’s faces during a time like this where people are in lockdown and not able to go anywhere, especially the elderly, is the most fulfilling thing.”
Guitarist Martin Turner, a learning support worker at Lewisham College, said it’s been “eye-opening and awe inspiring.” Turner has held other volunteer roles through the pandemic, but says this is the first time during lockdown he has “seen the effect of the isolation for some of these vulnerable people.” He said: “In this kind of crisis, people don’t want something material, they want something meaningful with a bit more purpose to it, and that’s where music can always step in. It’s been a surprise, but reflecting on it I’ve realised how helpful it is to do something like this with the community.”
The project’s early success has attracted interest from outside the borough, with requests coming from as far as Ealing. While this project is being kept within Lewisham, it has the potential to be adopted nationwide.
Those involved have all noted how the initiative doesn’t just stop at the song, but incorporates some of those day-to-day interactions people will have missed from being socially isolated. David, a resident who received a performance said: “Sometimes it’s easy to think that people are selfish, but this has reminded me how kind people can be. It has made an old man very happy!” Julia, another recipient added, “I had the best day. It made me so happy. Gorgeous singing, playing and a totally delightful experience.”
Sue East, the acting chair of Goldsmiths Community Centre, said: “In these tough times it’s wonderful to witness the spirit of community solidarity across the whole of Lewisham. Goldsmiths Community Centre has served the community since 1939 and we are committed to continuing to preserve our original ethos while developing our cultural and community role for current and future generations. The sharing of music provides a space for people of different backgrounds to come together, even when there is sadness and stress. We are so proud to play our part in spreading joy.”
Despite lockdown and shielding rules now being eased, the situation largely remains unchanged for those with underlying health conditions. Give A Song will continue to reach those who are isolated, and tend to the emotional wellbeing of vulnerable local residents. Edwards-Wood said: “Without a pandemic there are always people who are isolated. There are always people who have an illness and are bedridden, or are elderly and don’t get out very much. I think this is something that could be sustainable for a long time.”
You can donate to Give A Song at gofundme.com.
This is one of a series of stories we are running on how people in SE London have responded to the coronavirus pandemic. Let us know if you have a story to tell.
LAURA DAY is a freelance journalist specialising in health and wellbeing. She is based in Hither Green.
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