Fantastic for Families Award 2022 Shortlist

darts: Singing for Memory

Cara McAleese, Arts & Health Project Manager at darts, shares more about ‘Singing for Memory’, their weekly sessions which were shortlisted for the Best Age-Friendly Outreach Award in the Fantastic for Families Awards 2022.

About Singing for Memory 

Singing for Memory is a weekly group using the power of song, friendship, tea and conversation to connect people with dementia and their carers with others.

Singing for Memory provides a regular, safe space for people to have fun, sing familiar songs and create new ones. Professional musicians facilitate the sessions; their expert approach is different to other dementia services and sessions are designed to challenge participants in a gentle and appropriate manner

“I enjoy singing – it takes me out of myself, I lose my inhibitions, I gain confidence through it, and I think just singing is uplifting, even if nothing happens, when I leave the building I feel much better than when I first came in.” – Participant

“It’s not only the singing, with living on my own…it gets me out of the house, and I’m amongst people, and we have a chat. I always feel much better.” – Participant

Coming to the group is my only time to have some respite and do something fun, so it’s really important to me.

Over the pandemic we came up with a range of ways to support participants to be creative and connected. We telephoned our participants and spoke to them throughout lockdown and as we emerged from pandemic restrictions. They told us how challenging life had become without routine; being isolated from services, groups and digital opportunities. We continued to gather feedback as we tested different approaches and built on the best experiences to develop an approach that worked. 

As well as delivering digital sessions on our website, we delivered Garden Gigs for participants, friends and neighbours. We created seven beautiful, interactive CD/DVD newsletters, delivered to people’s homes and distributed to groups. We created 10 episodes of ‘Sing FM’ a 10-minute slot on Sine FM with a listenership of 6000. Over 2021 and the first part of 2022 we have delivered sessions in care homes and regular slots at two day care centres. 

When we restarted sessions at The Point in May 2021, the group was smaller than before the pandemic. We are really happy that we are now close to our original numbers and have met many wonderful new singers. 

“Coming to the group is my only time to have some respite and do something fun, so it’s really important to me.” – Participant


As a number of our participants passed away or moved into care during this period, we also engaged with new partners and services to find out what the barriers to engagement are for others who have dementia but weren’t accessing the group. We have learned that the barriers around transport have increased as well as the anxiety of socialising which COVID-19 has caused. We have also experienced that because people have felt so disconnected, it has been a challenge getting them back into the room. We have overcome this through regular pop-up sessions with other community groups, and ongoing work with local Admiral Nurses and other local dementia organisations.

We have really learned that you must keep on getting out there to meet and sing with as many people as possible, and work closely in partnership locally, to build those connections and get a group back together.

We regularly hear from our participants what the difference is – both in the present and long term:

“Well, not only am I coming to a singing session I then go into town afterwards. I might meet people I know and have a chat, almost certainly I’ll bump into people I know – it’s good to get me out of the house, it motivates me, because I have had times when I just can’t be bothered to get up, you know I might stay in bed most of the day, especially in winter.” – Participant

“I could tell the difference in my dad when we got home last week. We all had a great time and it makes such a difference to get out of the house and do something fun together.” – Family Carer

“Dad can be quite difficult at home, but when he comes to Singing for Memory, he’s happy and smiling!” – Family Carer

We all had a great time and it makes such a difference to get out of the house and do something fun together.

We have also learned that it is important to maintain quality and ambition in what we do. We sing a wide range of songs from across the globe, meaning that it is a different experience from other, more traditional, groups. We provide instruments, have a go at rhythms and rounds, and sometimes create new songs with everyone in the room offering ideas for lyrics. This makes the brain work harder, but in an enjoyable way. It also enables those with dementia and their carers to experience something fun and stress-free together. 

Our professional musicians are expert at using tempo, pitch, rhythm and the right instruments to foster good energy and a sense of achievement in the room. Carers can then feel more confident to do other things for themselves such as learning to drive, or creating their own art work at home.

We have been lucky to work with researcher Dr Robyn Dowlen, an expert in the field of Music and Dementia. She has reviewed all our project materials and evaluations, observed sessions and interviewed a wide range of people involved with Singing for Memory to pull together an evaluation report. This has identified four main elements to our work which are helpful markers when we are describing our work:  

  • Gently challenging, meaningful activity 
  • Feeling connected and supported 
  • A safe and welcoming space 
  • High quality musical provision 

What it means to be shortlisted for a Fantastic for Families Award 

It is such an honour to be shortlisted for this Award – the national profile helps us to share our work and pass on learning with the wider creative community, which we hope will help strengthen this kind of provision across the country. It also means that our amazing staff team are recognised for the incredible work that they do – our friendly and welcoming front of house team, our skilled artists, our administrative and marketing staff and our senior leaders.

As well as our aim to continue regular high-quality activity at our home, The Point, we are looking at how we might set up satellite groups in other parts of Doncaster to make it easier for people to attend a session. We are constantly developing our relationships with local providers such as Age UK, Alzheimer’s Society and Admiral Nurses to work together for people living with dementia in Doncaster, and we are looking at how we may support each other’s sessions through taster sessions and other joint activity.

About darts

darts creates art with people in Doncaster to improve life, learning and health. We are an experienced team of artists, creative professionals and support staff making high-quality, inclusive, creative experiences across the borough of Doncaster. Our programmes are open to everyone, particularly those who have the least access to the arts. 

6 December 2022


Cara McAleese Photo Credit James Mulkeen for darts

Cara McAleese, Arts & Health Project Manager, darts

Cara McAleese is currently managing the Singing for Memory programme for people living with dementia and their carers. Cara loves working in arts and health and brings a wealth of experience with her, particularly from her work on the ‘Meet Me at The Albany’ programme in London, as well as producing roles and project management with a wide range of other arts organisations and projects. 

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6 December 2022