Turtle Song is a free, weekly workshop for people with Alzheimer’s and all forms of dementia together with their carers, companions and siblings – using music, song writing, singing and movement to provide creative, mental and social stimulation. Turtle Key Arts work with local and national charities, memory clinics and occupational therapy teams to find the most isolated people with Alzheimer’s and Dementia in each area, often providing transport for them, to form a group of 20 to 30 participants who work with professional musicians, music students and workshop leaders to write the lyrics and compose the music for their own song cycle. The project ends in a live performance for friends and family which is recorded as a CD and DVD. On 20th January, a new group of participants will start the project at Chats Palace in Hackney and on 16th January, the project launches at York University.
The project was started 10 years ago when Turtle Key Arts’ Chief Executive Alison King and Artistic Director Charlotte Cunningham (recently made an MBE for her services to the arts), felt there was a lack of provision for Alison’s mother and Charlotte’s mother-in-law, both of whom had Alzheimer’s. The first project took place in the Royal College of Music’s rehearsal rooms, with Alison’s mother as a participant. The intergenerational project brought together participants with dementia with young music students – the combination of people with different experiences leading to a breaking down of barriers and a reduction of the stigma around dementia.
Charlotte said, “The initiative provided a high quality project for people diagnosed with dementia but still living in their homes – often isolated and scared of leaving the house. When we started, there was relatively little provision of this kind: 10 years on I’m proud to say that we are part of a new and more positive ecology, and we’ve worked with some fantastic organisations such as Arts4Dementia, Creative Dementia Arts Network, Younger People with Dementia and Young Dementia UK and many, many more to continue to ensure that the work has a real legacy and can continue to have a positive, life-changing impact on people’s lives.”
Since it started, Turtle Key Arts, English Touring Opera and Royal College of Music have worked together with arts organisations, universities, the NHS and charities to deliver more than twenty projects across the UK, involving over 400 participants, 60 workshop leaders and 150 music students – and that’s over 10,000 cups of tea drunk. In 2017, projects will take place in Hackney, York, Oxford, Reading, Waddesdon Manor Bucks and more TBC. Turtle Key Arts continue to contribute to and strive for a new vision of arts, health and wellbeing with input in conferences and initiatives such as Aesop and the National Alliance for Arts, Health and Wellbeing.