Croydon carers singing for support

By - Wednesday 17th September, 2014

Carers are finding their voices through singing groups in Croydon, says Catherine Pestano

Deep in song.
Photo author’s own.

Recently I attended a Royal College of Music Symposium on singing and health which has led me to reflect on how singing can help to support and uplift carers. I’m aware that an increasing number of us face caring responsibilities, both for young but also increasingly for elderly family members – or both at the same time – and I’m very interested in how singing can help.

Recent research has shown the very real benefits of singing for many health conditions, from asthma to Alzheimer’s. It can also help the wellbeing of unpaid carers including boosting the immune system, reducing stress levels and raising mood. This fact has been spoken about recently by the Rt. Hon. Lord Howarth of Newport who is the founder and co-chair of the new All Party Parliamentary Group for the Arts, Health and Wellbeing. Singing can impact the health and lives of carers and we have two new free initiatives starting in Croydon for the benefit of local people.

The first of these is at Carers Support Centre, in George Street, which will open its doors to any carer in the borough for four fortnightly singing sessions with the local community arts group which I am involved in called Creative Croydon. These sessions start Wednesdays 1st, 15th, 29th October and 12th November, 1:15-2:30pm. We will use singing to promote relaxation fun and wellbeing for carers, and there is no pressure to perform. We will sing for our own enjoyment and joy.

Singing has a reputation for putting smiles on people’s faces

The singing group will also provide members with the chance to meet other carers whilst learning uplifting songs in harmony. Under the guidance of an experienced singing facilitator, the groups will be given tuition on vocal warm-ups, singing and breathing techniques. Adult carers will gain an opportunity to meet other carers in their community and connect with them through singing, reducing the isolation that can be felt when caring for a loved one.

We hope the sessions will provide respite and an escape from day-to-day caring duties through this creative and sociable activity. Previous experience of singing isn’t necessary and you don’t need to be able to read music or feel that you have a good voice – all are welcome.

Singing brings people together.
Photo author’s own.

Helen Thompson, director of the Carers Support Centre, says: “Singing brings a host of health and wellbeing benefits, including a calming effect equivalent to a yoga session, and promotes the release of endorphins – which is why it has a reputation for putting smiles on people’s faces.” In another local carers singing project in Bromley, participants shared how it had helped them: “Sessions are delivered in a lovely light-hearted manner, which is what us carers need,” “The feeling of joining in, and of not feeling alone…” “I’ve felt a sense of achievement, JOYFUL!”.

Another area where singing has been very successful in helping people is that of cancer, both for people with the cancer and their closest carers, family and friends. Singing Hospitals notes that in their mantra group for women concluding their treatments, the singing space allows them to relax into a space for self expression where they don’t have to be strong. “Joining singing groups gives you the chance to meet others living with cancer and share time together in a friendly, supportive environment. You can join even if you don’t have previous musical experience and friends and family are welcome too”.

It has helped people experiencing cancer and has been shown to alleviate depression

Croydon MacMillan services are piloting singing for relaxation and wellbeing of people who are carers for family or friends with cancer as well as for people with cancer. It is an informal, friendly and supportive group led by an experienced singing leader and social worker. No singing experience is necessary, as all songs are taught by ear and the emphasis is firmly on having fun, camaraderie, singing for pleasure and making supportive connections. It may be particularly helpful for those who are socially isolated, fatigued, needing support or coming to terms with their experiences in either role, and a new life with cancer.

Associate Director of Research Dr Ian Lewis at Tenovus said, of their singing project Sing for Life, that it has been: “…proven to help people experiencing cancer and has been shown to alleviate depression and improve the overall wellbeing of its members. An independent study carried out by researchers at the School of Healthcare Studies at Cardiff University showed remarkable improvements in members’ vitality, social function and mental health as well as a reduction in bodily pain.”

Another recent study (Gale et al 2012) showed choral singing may improve the experience of quality of life and depression, despite no physiological change in cancer survivors and their carers. It concludes that choral groups offer a support mechanism applicable to cancer patients, carers, and supporters, and may be relevant to other chronic conditions. Wessex Cancer Trust comments that “singing and friendship make us feel great, so it stands to reason that standing side by side with companions and joining forces in song is an excellent therapy”.

So if you are a carer for someone of any age, friend or family supporter come along and visit one of our carefree singing groups to see what it might do for you…

To book, email Ruth Laws ( at the Carers Support Centre in George Street, 020 8649 6280. Click here for information about MacMillan Cancer Centre daytime singing sessions at Croydon University Hospital.

The Carers’ Information Service provides information, advice, support and training to anyone who is looking after a family member, friend or neighbour who needs help due to illness, frailty or disability. Part of the Whitgift Foundation, registered charity number 312612.

Catherine Pestano

Catherine Pestano

Catherine Pestano grew up in Sutton (standing for Labour), went to school in Carshalton, and college in Croydon. She loves Croydon, her vibrant home town of 17 years, where she works as a Nordic walking instructor and co-ordinator of community arts for well-being. She has a nostalgic fondness for her Brownie and Girl Guide Handbooks and all things Scouting-related. Campfire singing a speciality!

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