Cultural Wellbeing Grants Supports York Charity Musical Connections

As part of the launch of York’s Culture Strategy ‘York’s Creative Future’, Make It York and City of York Council awarded funding of more than £10,000 to seven social and cultural initiatives across the city – with the aim of easing loneliness, isolation and mental ill-health during the winter months. 

The grants, which were made available via the Better Care Fund, were set up in recognition of the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on people’s wellbeing – through shielding, self-isolation and social distancing. 

One charity the grants supported was Musical Connections – an organisation which aims to empower people to lead happier, healthier lives through participation in music. First conceived in 2008, the organisation became a registered charity in 2016, offering a diverse musical programme which challenges age-related stereotypes and engages with older, vulnerable people in a fun and interactive way.  

The culture and wellbeing grant from City of York Council and Make It York enabled the charity to deliver a diverse package of social support and musical engagement to over 160 vulnerable older people, both on-and off-line, throughout the winter months. From online concerts and Christmas carolling to advent calendars and posting cards – the Musical Connections team have looked for new and creative ways to engage with their members during the pandemic.  

The diverse programme of activity over the last few months has included a fun virtual, intergenerational Christmas concert featuring contributions from members, musicians, local school children and university students. The concert was made available to watch online and was also sent out on DVD to members without internet access. The grant also enabled several days of doorstep carolling with 110 sheltered housing tenants, people living in the wider community and volunteers, entitled ‘Carols on the Road’. The Christmas joy continued with the creation of an online advent calendar, featuring contributions from members, schools, students and the Musical Connections musicians. Christmas cards and decorations were also sent out to members to help lift their spirits in the run up to the festive period.  

 The grant also enabled the charity to continue their regular Zoom coffee morning and singing sessions, as well as weekly Facebook Live singing sessions. A fabulous video round-up of 2020 was created, featuring Musical Connections photos, footage and themes, alongside key news events of the year, all set to a track, ‘These Days’, that the musicians recorded for their ‘Our Musical Family’ CD. Recently they also sent out to all members ‘Family Tree Photo Album’ cards in the post as a boost for the gloomy February months. Working with students from York University’s Music Education Group, the charity are now planning a virtual Spring concert which members can watch online at home.  

Fiona Chapman from Musical Connections said, “It was hugely important for us that we found new ways to continue to engage with our members when the pandemic hit, and the grant funding has really helped us to deliver this. Activities like the doorstep carolling where we could get out and see our members (at a distance!) were just fantastic and a great way to reconnect with the community. We have had such lovely feedback from our members about the work that we’ve been doing and how it has made such a huge difference to their wellbeing and mental health especially during lockdown.  

The pandemic has meant that we’ve had to look at innovative ways to engage with our members and be creative about the way we deliver our activity. This has included taking risks and learning new skills to help us create virtual content and videos for our members to enjoy from home.  We have such an amazing team that are really dedicated to supporting our members and they’ve worked so hard to adapt and find new ways to engage with our community.  

Looking ahead we are hoping to be able to building on our ‘MC on the Road’ activity and hopefully bring back our group sessions very soon when lockdown restrictions ease and it’s safe to all get together again.  

We call ourselves a family and whilst the pandemic has kept us apart physically, ‘Our Musical Family’ has continued to remain close – with musicians, members and volunteers coming together to keep each other going during this challenging time. We’d love our family to continue to grow in 2021 and anyone interested in joining our groups is always very welcome!”  

For more information about the charity visit https://www.musicalconnections.org.uk/ or call 01904 373011 to find out more about how to participate with their activities.