Real Lives Wellbeing

Music speaks louder than words

A care home in East London is hosting regular live music sessions, with house-bound residents saying the performers bring “so much joy”.

Located in Bow, the twelve residents who live at L&Q Living’s Coxley House have been enjoying live music performed by a guitarist and singer in the comfort and safety of their home.

Reduced social isolation has been a key outcome achieved for the residents who have a range of complex mental health needs and are nervous about going outside due to the pandemic.

An increase in socialising and improved communication have also been seen in individuals who haven’t engaged in other activities run by the Stratford-based housing association.

Picture this.. a gloomy wet winter Wednesday is transformed by music day at Coxley House, a much-anticipated activity in the scheme’s event calendar. Postponed due to a previous covid outbreak, professional musicians, Harvey and Amber, arrive to a welcoming committee of seven residents. After a quick hello, they kick things off with the Beatles ‘From me to you’ – a Coxley house fan favourite.

As the room fills with the familiar, catchy chorus, the mood is transformed and the residents light up. Ali takes up the tambourine, Eleanor shakes the bells and Elizabeth taps her foot. Everyone else sings or hums along. The audience is made up of seven residents living with a range of mental health conditions.

For resident, Ali, music is in his DNA and reminds him of a time in his life before living at the scheme. After requesting “I wanna love you” by Bob Marley, he sings two Bengali songs in his native language, accompanied by Harvey on the guitar.

Ali says: “I love the way Harvey sings and plays the guitar. It reminds me of how my dad used to jam and make music with his friends when I was growing up.”

Care worker, Chinwe, says: “Harvey and Amber play songs that the residents know and always do their best to perform anything requested. Creating this sense of nostalgia takes residents back to a time when they were more able, before they had care and support needs.”

When Helena takes to the floor, the staff members look visibly relieved. They later inform us that she is going through a difficult loss following the death of a former resident just three days before.

Care home manager, Shabanaz, says: “Today’s session provided an escape for Helena. Singing and dancing took her mind off things. When Helena is happy, she dances. it was lovely to see her doing that as she has been very down over the last few days.”

Helena is not the only resident on her feet. Putting in a request for ‘Dancing Queen’, Elizabeth gets up and joins her – and for the first time at an activity too.

The benefits of music for people with mental health needs have long been known in the research community and are now gaining traction among carers in the housing sector too. Less distress, better state of mind, increased socialising, and improved communication are some of the many outcomes achieved for residents living at the East-London based scheme.

Staff were also concerened about new resident, Qaisar, who arrived two days before.

Shabanaz says: “I was worried about Qaisar fitting in, in the same way I am when all new people arrive. It can take a while for them to settle in, so it was great to see him interacting with others and coming out of his shell.”

The music reaches even the most withdrawn residents. Winston, who is usually room based, is seen dancing, singing and playing the harmonica.

It’s been another testing year for the social care sector, but the Coxley House team remain determined to offer an environment where residents can thrive and enjoy the highest quality of life possible. Music sessions have been running since 2017 and are funded by L&Q’s charitable arm, the L&Q Foundation.

Shabanaz says: “Social isolation has affected our residents a lot over the course of the pandemic. They are scared to go out and mix with others, that’s why it’s so great that we can bring Amber and Harvey to them. Both are great at engaging with the residents and encouraging them to get involved. When we have the music sessions, we can see how it brightens the residents’ days. Not only do they enjoy themselves, it brings everyone together for a fun activity.

L&Q Living offers housing with different levels of care and support through their extra care housing, sheltered housing and supported housing developments, and are particularly known for the work they do with older people.

Staff focus on care for the individual, supporting vulnerable adults to stay active, take care of themselves, continue to be part of their local communities, and stay as independent as they wish for as long as possible.

An hour later, the performance comes to a close. “One more song!” asks Ali for the third time. An encore may not be possible today, but Harvey promises they’ll be back in a fortnight.

As the duo pack up, Helena and Ali present Amber with a jewellery box they’ve made for her. It’s a sweet token of appreciation symbolising the joy that music can bring to residents living in supported housing.

Edel Harris

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