How Singing for Wellness is helping people to find their voice

22 March 2023

People with respiratory conditions in Devon have been describing how a Singing for Wellness project run by Wren Music is improving their breathing and their overall wellbeing. 

The project recently received funding from the National Lottery Community Fund to run sessions in three locations in the county for the next three years. It follows a successful NHS-funded pilot in Torbay before the pandemic.  

The new Singing for Wellness afternoons are in East Devon, West Devon, and Torbay.  

In East Devon, the meetings are on Mondays, 1:30pm-3:30pm at Honiton Family Church, High Street, Honiton. In Torbay, the sessions are also on Tuesdays, 2.30pm-4.30pm, at The Windmill Centre, Pendennis Rd, Torquay. In West Devon, the choir meets on Thursdays, 2pm-4pm at Pavilion in the Park, Mill Road, Okehampton. 

Each session starts with a series of breathing, relaxation and oxygenation exercises followed by pitch, tuning and harmonising exercises, before the group learns and sings a few songs.  

Singing can be of particular benefit to people with respiratory conditions and those suffering the effects of long covid. However, many in this vulnerable group are anxious about attending group events and remain socially isolated.  

For some of those attending, it has been a big step – but they say they are noticing a significant difference in their breathing. Amanda Jones, Alison Hutton and Pete Brickley have joined Singing for Wellness in 2023. Amanda has a respiratory condition that worsened during lockdown. She has attended every weekly session since they began in the New Year: “The exercises and the singing definitely help with my breathing,” she said. 

“I notice that it’s much better in the days after the sessions, and then it starts to deteriorate as the week progresses until the next choir session. If there were two sessions a week, I’d come to both.” 

The meetings are also an opportunity to socialise in a safe environment. Amanda said: “I had to shield during covid because I am immuno-suppressed. I lost all social contact, so the socialising aspect is very good. In that sense, Singing for Wellness helps with mental health as well as physical health. I’m meeting people, making new friends, and having a nice time.” 

Pete also has a medical condition that affects his breathing. He said: “The singing does improve my breathing, it’s very noticeable the following day. But it does more than that. It gets me out to meet people. It cheers me up – it’s the first time I’ve done singing since I left school and I’m enjoying it. 

“The mental health side of this is very important,” added Pete. “I can’t adequately say how really helpful I have found the sessions to be, in improving my breathing, strengthening my voice and, surprisingly, enhancing my general wellbeing.” 

Retired teacher Alison is attending the sessions to help her vocal cords, which were damaged through years of having to talk to packed classrooms: “I used to love singing, but I lost my voice. I’m coming to Singing for Wellness because I’m trying to strengthen my voice and they absolutely have helped. Even after only a few sessions, I’m already feeling the benefit. The exercises we do at the start are brilliant – and it’s just lovely to be able to sing again.” 

The Singing for Wellness sessions are run by three singing leaders from Wren Music, a charity run by professional singers and musicians which delivers projects with vulnerable groups including children with disabilities, adults in care homes, and children in the care system. It also has community choirs and orchestras across Devon. The three singers, Sarah Owen, Jon Dyer, and Paul Wilson, all received special training from a respiratory physiotherapist at the University of Plymouth.  

Paul said: “We are getting some amazing feedback from the Singing for Wellness sessions we’ve held since we started them in January. One woman lives in a home with three landings and has a chair on each landing so she can get her breath back when she’s going upstairs. When she comes to the choir, she can do all the stairs without having to sit down. 

“Another woman said, ‘I’ll come for the breathing exercises, but you won’t get me singing’. Now, she’s the first to arrive every week and she loves singing!  

“I can see people brightening up in front of me as we’re doing the sessions, they are energised, and there’s a lot of laughter, which is great. Someone said that Singing for Wellness should be available on prescription!” 

Paul added, however: “Sadly, we know there are quite a few people who could really benefit from coming to the Singing for Wellness choirs, but they are still very nervous, which is completely understandable. We’d love more people to come along, have a cuppa, meet new people, and see how singing might help them.” 

No singing experience is necessary, and there are opportunities for the choirs to give local performances, for people wishing to take part in those events. The sessions are ‘pay what you feel’, with £5 suggested. Groups are held weekly during school term times. You can book a place by emailing [email protected] or calling 01837 53754, or just turn up on the day.