An intergenerational choir at the UK’s first fully integrated research nursery within a care setting, the Nursery in Belong, which is run by national charity Ready Generations and located at the Belong care village in Chester, has expanded to involve the local community after proving a hit with old and young alike.
Dubbed the ‘Sankofa Songsters’, the choir takes its name from the Ghanaian word meaning ‘to retrieve’, which is symbolised by a bird with forward-facing feet and its head turned backwards, carrying an egg in its mouth, representing the need to reflect on the past to build a successful future, a value that is enshrined in the nursery’s intergenerational curriculum.
Inspired by the nursery’s weekly intergenerational musical ‘stay and play’ sessions, residents came up with the idea of forming a choir together with the children. Both initiatives are led by music teacher Amanda Wrigley, who runs music and movement sessions for schools, pre-schools and nurseries under the moniker ‘Live the Beat’. They are made possible with grants from Curious Minds North West, which aims to improve the lives of children and young people through participation in arts and culture, and Cheshire West and Chester Council Member Budgets.
Working alongside Belong’s intergenerational practice lead, Sophie McKeon, the children and residents select the songs they wish to sing, including Edelweiss and Somewhere Over The Rainbow. They have also chosen to incorporate drumming sessions involving a large gathering drum and smaller hand drums.
Members of the local community are now getting involved, with resident Shirley Heaton attending with her daughter Tracey, and the father of Amanda, who leads the sessions, also starting joining in. Local pianist Pete Hardie, who volunteers at the community care village, has begun playing piano to accompany the singing.
Asked about what she enjoys about the choir, Tracey Heaton said: “It gives me a chance to see both my mum and other people in the moment, feeling that they can all participate together.”
Shirley added: “It’s wonderful and full of fun. My favourite songs are ‘You Make Me Love You’ and ‘Baby Face’.”
Commenting on the benefits for participants, Ruth Sandbach, Nursery Manager at the Nursery in Belong, said: “The choir really has brought immense joy to village life. It’s particularly exciting that this is led by the residents and children. Even for people who might not be living with dementia, music has an almost unique ability to evoke joy and memories, which can help to maintain cognitive functioning and well-being. This is really helpful for people living with dementia and, of course, for our children as they develop their language and communication skills.”