Violaine Bailleul on the local project showing how music is good for our health
The Smiling Sessions is a fun, participatory singing experience for the elderly that promotes well-being, reduces isolation and builds friendships.
Developed in 2010 by Alison Jones and Pete Baikie, the project was originally funded by the Big Lottery Fund and was voted into the finals of the National Lottery Awards 2011. The sessions quickly evolved into regular gatherings for local residents of Waltham Forest, who started to ask for their favourite songs to be played.
Our trio of professional musicians, armed with a wide variety of requests, from Vera Lynn to The Rolling Stones, have since made weekly visits to sheltered housing and care homes to sing songs; the emphasis being on humour, interaction, and having a good time. It takes residents back to their youth and reminds them of all sorts of fantastic memories.
Music reaches the parts other activities can’t reach and has proven benefits for mental and physical health, self esteem, memory, concentration, co-ordination, and people’s wellbeing. We create large-print songbooks and a CD for the residents to use during and after the project is finished, not forgetting the Christmas songbooks used annually for the festive parties!
We are fortunate enough to be approaching our ninth year of singing and bringing joy to more than 1,500 elderly residents across deprived areas of London. The Mayor of Waltham Forest recently accepted our invitation to attend one of our sessions at Infinite Oasis Care in Leyton and enjoyed singing and dancing with us.
We have many touching and life-changing stories. One resident reluctantly joined our group, as she loved singing, but suffered from a form of social phobia and anorexia. Our team encouraged her to come to the fortnightly sessions and by the end of the project she told us that she had joined the local church choir in time for the Christmas concert. She said: “Taking part in The Smiling Sessions gave me the confidence to join my local church choir. I normally stay in my room all day!”
There are still many people we’d like to collaborate with. We are open to approaches from social housing, care homes, befriending volunteers, and of course sponsors.
The Smiling Sessions is run by Shapeshifter Productions, which also runs Walthamstow Acoustic Massive (WAM), East Winds, and Strung Out Violin evening classes for adults.