Plymouth Music Zone

Plymouth Music Zone logo
Barbara singing, Plymouth Music Zone
CD Digifile Back, Plymouth Music Zone
CD Digifile Front, Plymouth Music Zone
David Clarke with microphone and earphones, Plymouth Music Zone
Plymouth Music Zone

Plymouth Music Zone is a highly regarded multi-award winning community music charity that uses the power of music to reach out to some of the most vulnerable or marginalised individuals supported within health, social care, education and community settings.  The organisation engages up to 1000 people every week with over 60 weekly music activities. It also brings people together through special projects, events and specialised training. It aims to reduce loneliness and isolation and improve people’s skills, emotional wellbeing and social connectedness.

6 independent evaluations to date show evidence of a person-centred, relational ‘assets based’ type approach to its practice. It works with people all ages, especially those facing a diverse range of challenging circumstances or transitions. It delivers sustained music sessions within a wide range of settings including special schools, psychiatric units, domestic refuge settings and residential homes. Plymouth Music Zone also provides highly tailored training and support to Music Leaders wishing to develop their skills in these areas.

A Plymouth Music Zone practice example is the ‘Keep Singing, Keepsake Project’(KSK), an ongoing intergenerational music project that aims to support older people at risk of loneliness or isolation. A pilot was delivered in around 12 residential homes/dementia care units across Plymouth between 2012-2015 where it proved successful in strengthening social ties and improving wellbeing through participation in sustained weekly music activities as well as promoting intergenerational communication through regular performances with young people working with Plymouth Music Zone at their community music centre. The project was funded by Lloyds Bank Foundation, Arts Council England, Big Lottery Fund, Porticus UK, Affinity Sutton Housing and David Gibbon Foundation. It is expanding today with increased funding from Big Lottery Fund, Arts Council England and Dunhill Medical Trust. 

Description of the arts activity

KSK involves weekly music and singing sessions that focus on encouraging participation and interactive music making as well as including an element of social time with tea and biscuits.  Participants sing songs chosen in turn by them, accompanied on guitar or keyboard by a music leader and supported by carers within settings. Songbooks, song sheets in large print and hand percussion instruments are provided for residents to use as well as other musical instruments or ipads with music software when needed. Music leaders draw heavily on participants’ knowledge and experience, ensuring everyone is included in the sessions, paying attention to particular needs and managing group dynamics. At the end of the project CDs and DVDs are produced to give to family and friends as audio and video ‘keepsakes’ as well as providing a record of the work. These keepsakes are also hosted on the charity’s youtube channel to increase the visibility of older peoples’ music making. Participants are also invited to perform at events at Plymouth Music Zone with people from other residential settings as well performing at special intergenerational events with young people. 

Details of the project participants

The project targets older people at risk of isolation and particularly those with additional needs such as visual impairment or those experiencing cancer or recovering from the effects of stroke and aphasia etc.  The charity adopts a needs led approach. It responds to referrals but uses a targeted approach to access participants by developing meaningful partnerships with settings willing to invest time in fully supporting participants to attend weekly sessions while allowing care staff and managers to also benefit. 

Project management

Plymouth Music Zone’s Music Programme Manager is the main link between managers/staff at the settings and Music Leaders who deliver sessions. He matches appropriate Music Leaders according to participant need in each setting and ensures proper contracting with partner organisations and Music Leaders to agree expectations, desired outcomes and finances etc. To cover any match funding requirements, some settings access their own funding pots, some ask for a small contribution from residents and some raise money themselves. Partner organisations are responsible for recruiting/choosing participants who attend the sessions and are also expected to provide pastoral support for participants during those sessions.

The Programme Manager is responsible for ensuring Music Leaders have ongoing support to ensure the highest quality. The Music Leader is responsible for enrolling participants and obtaining consents, preparing and delivering sessions and supporting the evaluation. Music Leaders receive ongoing supervision, development, skills sharing and pastoral support via their line manager (Music Programme Manager) as well as within inhouse training and peer reflective learning systems. Quality assurance also includes termly ‘snapshot’ observations by our Training and Research Manager in addition to performance management using a unique ‘Music Leader Capabilities Matrix’ that tracks ongoing development needs and progression. Plymouth Music Zone’s team developed this matrix inhouse as part of their commitment to reflective practice and continuous improvement.   

Evaluation methods and findings

In addition to an outcomes based monitoring and evaluation system incorporating funder outcomes supplemented by video evaluation there was also an Independent Evaluation produced at the end of the 3 years.  The Power of Songs: An Evaluation of Plymouth Music Zone’s ‘Keep Singing, Keepsake’ Project. Report by Professor Jocey Quinn & Claudia Blandon, Plymouth University and Plymouth Music Zone, 2014.

Key findings show participants reported music helped them relax, express their feelings, experience happiness, celebrate survival and share emotions. The project also found these benefits are sustained, as songs are portable and participants take this with them during the week. Music is reported to provide an alternative source of comfort and support in a secular society, particularly valuable for those facing the end of their lives. The evaluation concluded the project prevents social isolation and loneliness by creating a social network and bonds between people.

The support of care staff in facilitating participation in residential settings is an essential component of successful music projects. Other challenges include developing intergenerational performance that can be slow because of lack of confidence some older people show in relation to performing publicly. Successful outcomes depended on skills of music leaders to manage these and other challenges.

Supported using public funding by the Arts Council England