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Star & Garter Choir: Music goes interactive in the Surbiton Home

Royal Star & Garter staff have been looking at imaginative and creative ways to keep residents entertained and engaged during this difficult time.


As part of Mental Health Awareness week, Surbiton Activities & Volunteers Manager Raquel Pena Aristizabal talks about a special event she arranged.

You cannot underestimate the healing power of music. If you’ve ever stepped through the doors of one of our Homes, you probably would have heard music being played over the speakers. Or there’s a very good chance you would have seen a musical activity in action. We have so many music-themed activities because it plays such a big role in a resident’s physical and mental health, and well-being. Music has a way of opening our hearts, making us feel connected to others, to ourselves and the outside world.


There’s also evidence which suggests it can reduce depression, anxiety and chronic pain. In our Homes we have entertainers come in, we run sing-alongs, Music to Movement, Music Club, Feel the Music and much more. We also invite nursery and schoolchildren to come in to sing songs and nursery rhymes, and we are constantly welcoming entertainers to perform in our reception area and on Lister floor, where we care for residents living with dementia.


One of our most popular activities is the Star & Garter Choir. Every week, residents are joined by relatives, staff and volunteers and – led by Simon Hancock on piano – they sing a series of songs. It’s a wonderful activity which fills the Home with love, warmth and positivity. Sadly, this has been one of the things we’ve had to stop due to the current situation.


But we had an idea. We thought why not arrange an interactive Star & Garter Choir session? It has been tough for residents not being able to see their loved ones over the past month or so. But we have invested a lot of money in technology which means they can see and talk to loved ones on WhatsApp and FaceTime. And we’ve also been using video conferencing tools like Zoom for meetings. It seemed like we had all the technology we needed for an interactive choir session, all we needed was to get ‘the band’ back together!


I got in touch with all volunteers, and managed to get 14 involved – including one who was in the French Alps! Oh, the wonder of modern technology! The residents didn’t need any persuading to take part, they were very enthusiastic and looked forward to it.


I set it up so that while everyone could see everyone else on the screen, the only person they could hear singing was Simon. That meant the volunteers and residents could sing to their heart’s content in privacy. In a way it was a bit like singing to yourself in the shower, and who doesn’t like to do that?!


It was such a lovely event. You could see in the faces of the residents just what it meant to them. Music is such a powerful tool and it is certainly something we will arrange again.


These are challenging times for the residents, but in the Homes we are doing everything in our means to provide loving, compassionate care for them. Care with courage comes in many forms!


Our work with music and residents living with dementia has been supported by the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust through their Positive Pathways programme.