We spoke to Helen Preddy who is Creative Arts Development Coordinator and part of Jewish Care’s Disability, Arts and Dementia team. As well as explaining about the work of Jewish Care, Helen gave details of their residency with Wigmore Hall’s Music for Life programme and their future plans around social prescribing and dementia support.
Can you tell us about Jewish Care and what your role involves?
Jewish Care is the largest health and social care charity for the UK’s Jewish community, touching the lives of 10,000 people every week and provides a wide range of services for older people, people with disabilities, mental health needs, visual impairment, as well as Holocaust survivors and refugees. As well as our eleven care homes we have three centres for people living with dementia and their families, five community centres, a social work team and helpline and outreach support services in the community.
As Creative Arts Development Coordinator my role is to support colleagues to programme excellent, engaging participatory arts projects, focusing particularly on providing stimulating and creative experiences for residents in our care homes. Access to art and culture helps us understand and express who we are and how we feel and has been shown to have a hugely positive effect on people’s wellbeing. I help to make sure that there are plenty of opportunities to get involved in meaningful activities that are developed with, and not for those who use our services.
A typical day might involve a meeting with a colleague from an arts organisation to review a music project; visiting a session run by an artist from our pool of participatory arts freelancers; setting the agenda for our regular forum with Jewish Care social care coordinators; reading session reports, which are always fascinating, and keeping up with research in the field. The best part of my job is visiting projects in action and seeing the impact on our resident’s well being.
What other jobs have you had in your career to date and how did they lead you to your current role?
I’ve had a mix of roles in participatory art, arts education and customer service roles. After graduating I started working for Artis Education, delivering holistic performing arts sessions in primary schools all over London, Essex and Hertfordshire. It was very intense and I learnt a lot very quickly, but I loved the children’s creative spontaneity and relished the opportunity to develop my own performance and facilitation skills.
I was soon freelancing with different companies, still working with children, whilst also working in pubs and behind a butcher’s counter. It wasn’t until I completed a Masters in Applied Theatre and then volunteered with Spare Tyre that I ventured into work with adults.
Through volunteering, I had the opportunity to take on paid work and this led to being a performer in their Once Upon A Time piece, created specifically for people living with dementia. I toured the piece twice and found it one of the most wonderful experiences of my professional life. It opened my eyes to a completely new world and changed my direction. With a young family I wanted a more predictable work pattern, I was enjoying working as a Box Office Assistant at the Royal Court when I saw the vacancy for my current role and I was amazed that such a role existed. I have been working at Jewish Care for just over three years and have been able to develop, with my role growing and changing in that time as part of the Disability Arts and Dementia Team. There is always a new challenge!
You recently announced the start of a two-year residency with Wigmore Hall’s Music for Life programme, please tell us a bit more about that and how the residents have found it.
We are incredibly fortunate to have a long-standing partnership with Wigmore Hall’s Music for Life Programme. Linda Rose was ahead of her time when she founded the project in 1993 and Jewish Care have been the lead care and development partner since then. The offer of a care home residency was extremely exciting and while my colleagues and I immediately had all sorts of ideas, I knew quite quickly that I wanted to co-produce the project as much as possible. This is a strength-based approach that recognises that everyone involved: residents, staff, musicians, relatives, volunteers, has something to offer. The aim is for everyone to be part of the planning, delivery and evaluation of the residency.
To kick-start the project everyone agreed that a Music for Life launch event should be held and the home hosted a festival of music. Everything from improvisation drop-ins, singing workshops, relaxed concerts and a party room was crammed into an afternoon and from that we gathered feedback to plan the first months of the residency. The launch day created a real buzz in the home and it was clear to see that it wasn’t just the residents who benefit, but their relatives and staff members too.
Melanie Farenden, daughter of resident, Gloria Jaffe, told us that her mum doesn’t usually join in and she’d never heard her sing until that day. She felt it had been brilliant for everyone involved.
We now have a Community Choir established and a skilled and sensitive clarinettist, Luke Newby, working 1:1 with residents in their rooms. The responses from residents have been hugely positive. Everyone in the home feels proud to be associated with Wigmore Hall and have such accomplished musicians visiting regularly. The choir is growing and are in rehearsals for the annual Jewish Care Sing Off, with their entry co-written by a member of staff and one of the musicians, so they’ve really taken ownership of their act.
Perhaps the most powerful anecdote is from the one-to-one room visits, where one resident, Dorothy, has put a newspaper cutting about the project, featured in the Jewish Chronicle, she says: “Luke brightens up my day when he visits. We have been working together going through some of my books which have Jewish songs in them. Luke plays the music and I sing quietly, as I am not at all musical. It is very enjoyable and I love knowing I am helping him so he can play some of these songs to other residents who may recognise and enjoy them. We very much work together.”
The Department of Health and Social Care have been promoting social prescribing and the benefits of music especially, as well as the new project with Wigmore Hall what has your experience been of the power of music for people living with dementia?
I am really pleased to see that Matt Hancock is talking about the importance of the arts and culture to wellbeing and we welcome his holistic approach to healthcare If social prescribing is going to be successful and sustainable more widely we need to have a well-supported, skilled community of practitioners who will deliver the programmes that people can be referred to and these people will need to be paid to reflect the unique skills they have. I would like to hear more about how a social prescribing roll-out would be funded. A programme like Music for Life can only deliver the results it does because of the professionalism and commitment of the musicians and carers involved.
I am very much behind the Music for Dementia 2020 initiative and have seen many times how music seems to illicit responses from the most unexpected people. Instances of people with memory problems recalling all the lyrics to favourite songs are well documented, as are moments when people previously withdrawn and quiet start singing animatedly. For me some of the best moments I have seen is where music creates community and allows people to communicate. This happens best when everyone is in the moment together.
We see this in another respect as we provide culturally specific social care, there are benefits for our residents who have grown up with Jewish traditions, songs, tunes often linked with specific tastes and smells of festival food and celebrations in the cycle of the Jewish year. By celebrating the festivals there is an all-round sensory experience which can trigger strong memories for older people living with dementia. It’s fantastic to see how familiar tunes can stimulate people to recall words and melodies they have sung at other stages in their lives, connecting them to others in their community, the care home, to the past and to their own cultural identity. Many of the intergenerational visits from school children we have to our care homes around Jewish festivals bring this experience to life, triggering positive memories for our residents.
In a Music for Life circle, where musicians improvise together, responding to the here-and-now feeling in the room, everyone is sharing a moment of joy together. It wis powerful to see people living with dementia in a position of power and control, participating in the creation of a piece of art as equals.
What future work are you planning for dementia?
Over the next year we will be continuing with an artist mentoring project, where members of care staff work with a dance movement therapist to develop skills on delivering sensory interventions either 1:1 or in small groups. The aim is to enable and empower care staff to confidently incorporate creative approaches in their work, which has a huge impact on the daily lives of residents and staff.
Projects with our partners, including the Reader Organisation and City of London Sinfonia will continue as well as those led by our fantastic artists in disciplines ranging from film to puppetry. In the longer term, I am having lots of ideas about potential dance projects, so watch this space!
Tell us something interesting about yourself.
I once ill-advisedly decided to walk solo from Henley to Oxford along the Thames path, in November, with an ingrown toenail. I stubbornly made it half way, had a very long cold night in my tent at Wallingford and by the time I reached Abingdon the next day I was soaked through and in so much pain that I rang my mum and asked to be picked up. Despite it all, I am glad I did it, and one day I will finish the walk!