How this Southwick singing group is helping those who are living with dementia

A Southwick singing group is bringing joy and happiness to those living with dementia and other brain conditions.

Songs for Singing group in Southwick
Songs for Singing group in Southwick

Songs for Singing meet at St Michael’s Church in Church Lane, Southwick, once a month.

The group was set up nine months ago by Mary Gibbs, 75, a member of the church congregation, whose husband, Nigel, 77, has dementia. Singing has always been a big part of the couple’s lives.

Sign up to our daily SussexWorld Today newsletter

The group started off with about a dozen people, Mary said, but now welcomes up to 30 people a month.

Songs for Singing group in Southwick

Angie Jackson, organist at the church, plays the piano for the group.

“I mentioned it at the church one day and everyone said that it was a great idea,” said Mary.

“The main reason I thought about setting it up was because there is not enough for people with dementia in Southwick.

“We have always had to go to Worthing, so the fact that we now have something for people in Southwick is great.”

Songs for Singing an informal singing group in Southwick for those living with dementia and other brain conditions, and their families and carers, meet at St Michaels Church once a month

Singing is proven to help people with dementia and other brain diseases, Mary said, triggering memories from the past, and combating loneliness and isolation at the same time.

“The songs we sing date back and are songs that they can remember,” said Mary, adding: “It brings joy and happiness to their lives.”

But the group is designed for everybody, she said, not just those who are living with dementia: “We want to welcome everybody – everybody can sing.”

Mary said after watching BBC One’s Our Dementia Choir with Vicky McClure, she knew she had done the right thing.

Vicky’s gran was diagnosed with vascular dementia at the age of 75, and lived with the disease until her death in 2015. Inspired by her memory, the Line of Duty star presented a moving two-part documentary in May.

Together with specialists from the fields of medicine, music therapy, and performance, Vicky formed a special choir formed of 20 singers who are living with dementia.

In the second episode of the programme, which aired on May 9, it sees the choir come together to give one amazing performance to 2,000 people in Nottingham.

Mary said Songs for Singing wants to get rid of the stigma of dementia. “People are living with dementia, it is not something you suffer with,” she said, adding: “It is a disease and you can live well with it.”

Southwick Library also has a singing group which meets twice a month, Mary said, and the two groups support each other.

Reverend Jonathan French, rector at St Michael’s Church, said when Mary suggested the idea to form a group, the church wanted to meet that need.

“I am so delighted it is happening,” he said, adding: “Suddenly we found music and singing was bringing memories back. And there are connections in the mind that I never thought were possible.”

He added that more people were becoming aware of the benefits of singing for those with dementia.

When the Shoreham Herald met the Songs for Singing group on Friday, May 31, residents from Elmcroft care home in St Giles Close came along.

Clare Slender, activities champion, expressed her joy for the group. “It brings back happy memories,” she told the Herald.

“People that can’t talk anymore will sing along. I have got people that don’t remember their son and daughter’s names.

“It is rewarding to see them with a smile on their face – to help them in their last years – because they haven’t got much of a life and if this makes them happy, it makes me happy.”

Many people have a special connection to music and this can be particularly powerful for people with dementia, the Alzheimer’s Society says.

Evidence suggests music can improve someone’s mood, behaviour and wellbeing.

Listening to favourite songs can bring back old memories and feelings, said a spokesman.

They added: “Many people with dementia are still able to enjoy music and to sing even when they start to lose their language abilities. While the search for a cure continues, we all must work together to support people affected by dementia today so they can live meaningful lives.”

Songs for Singing’s next meet-up at St Michael’s Church is on Friday, June 28, at 11am.

Anyone who is interested in joining the group is welcome to just turn up on the day. Families and carers are also welcome.