Tapping her feet and swaying, care home resident Freda Colbourne is transported to another world by the singing she’s listening to outside her window.
Family and friends aren’t allowed to visit the Cedar Lawn care home in Stratford Upon Avon due to lockdown restrictions, as coronavirus continues to spread across the UK.
Contact with the outside world is now minimal, but Hannah Ciotkowski, from the healthcare charity Kissing It Better, is making sure people don’t feel too lonely, standing outside and singing a collection of golden oldies for the residents inside.
Freda, 97, seems particularly touched by the music, telling us how lovely it is to hear the singing, especially Over The Rainbow, which reminds her of her late husband and was played at his funeral.
Kissing It Better was set up in 2009 by Jill Fraser to “try and do what we can to help the isolated and lonely”.
Young people are invited to use their skills, be it singing or juggling, reading or rapping, “to bring the generations together”.
During the COVID-19 outbreak, Jill says their work is now more important than ever.
“We shouldn’t underestimate the trauma of going into a care home for some people,” she says.
“And then you’re not seeing your relatives… and also wondering if you’re particularly old, will you see them again – is this it.”
Told they couldn’t carry out their usual work and go into hospitals, care homes and the community as social distancing restrictions tightened, Jill and her team remained undeterred.
“We thought outside the box and decided to sing outside the windows,” she says.
“It’s so important for the elderly but also for the staff and for the loved ones who can’t visit to make sure they know their loved ones have not been forgotten.”
The charity stresses it follows all the correct government guidelines and takes advice from the highest level.
“Wherever we sing, all sessions are meticulously organised with the care homes and hospitals,” says Jill, so this is not something amateurs should be attempting during lockdown.
Cedar Lawn manager Linda Traynier says one resident was laughing and crying, singing and dancing when the team visited last week, thanks to a track that brought back memories of “meeting her husband in secret while off duty during the war all those years ago”.
Linda says that although times are “very difficult at the moment” as families aren’t allowed in, there are lots of things happening to try and keep everyone in contact.
“The singing really lifts everyone’s spirits,” she says.
Residents of Hylands House for dementia sufferers, also in Stratford Upon Avon, have benefited from the singers’ skills.
The health benefits of music to dementia sufferers are well documented. Music is often used as a form of therapy, known to increase communication with others because a song can often trigger memories.
“It accesses the other side of your brain and accesses the memory centre, so actually you’ll hear a melody and it will bring back different memories,” says Victoria Wilson, a professional singer and teacher who sings for the charity.
“Memories of childhood, joyous occasions… it helps remember things and connects people together.”
Jill and her team also get out into the community when they can.
David and Glynis, a couple in their 70s, have been treated to a personal concert on their doorstep (adhering to the two metre distancing) to mark Glynis’s birthday and the couple’s golden wedding anniversary, celebrations for which had to be cancelled over the weekend.
“It just brightens the whole day up, everyone is so down and it just lifts everyone’s spirits,” Glynis tells Sky News.
Jill says she is passionate about continuing with their support for as long as possible, and advises anyone who has relatives in isolation or residential care to get creative.
If technology is a problem, relatives can send photographs or letters – “anything to ensure they do not feel forgotten”, she says.
The current restrictions are clearly tough for everyone but for the elderly and vulnerable they are going to be particularly hard.
Judging by the response from Freda and the other residents, the work Kissing It Better does will play an important role in combating loneliness and depression in the months to come.