Starting Down Memory Lane: The Beginnings
Over Christmas 2020 there was a slightly unusual sight at Oaken Holt Nursing and Residential Home in Farmoor. Walking into the dining area you could see a glass screen, a piano and a mic. Something was afoot.
The year before, in 2019, Oxfordshire resident Jenny started a new hospitality job at Oaken Holt, whilst also undertaking projects in musical education with the Oxfordshire County Council Music Service. When the UK was plunged into lockdown in March 2020, Jenny’s projects unfortunately came to a halt, but her and other staff continued to make a real difference at Oaken Holt.
Pre-pandemic, external entertainment was a regular feature at the care home, but now, staff were working hard to set up all activities in house. With the help of the Activities Coordinator, Jenny made use of her singing talent to organise singing sessions for the residents, bringing much joy during this difficult time. After starting out acapella, once restrictions eased her Dad was able to safely join to accompany on piano – hence the glass screen. “It meant so much then,” Jenny explains to me, and I can picture the community spirit she fostered and the relief for carers and residents alike as they adapted to this strange, ‘new normal’.
Fast forward to 2022 and Jenny has expanded her wonderful work into Memory Lane Oxford, an up-and-coming business that will bring singing into local care homes. Whilst all residents are welcome, her ambition is to create an engaging and enjoyable activity for dementia sufferers.
The Journey Towards Nostalgia
What led Jenny to this point is a warming story. Jenny is a classically trained singer, a graduate of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland). In the early 2000s, her grandfather was diagnosed with dementia and some time later, her grandmother, too. During visits to their care homes, Jenny sang with them and noticed the positive impact of the music. “It was incredible,” she says, explaining how she involved other residents, who also responded positively.
Jenny recounts how, during one performance, she cut verses from an old song to make it short and sweet – the residents wouldn’t notice. Part way through she receives a telling off from said residents for skipping! Lesson learnt. Jenny tells me how the old songs brought back memories for her grandparents. Having had experience in my own family with dementia, it’s moving when someone with little short-term memory has a long-ago recollection that swims to the surface, and an energy seems to emerge from nowhere.
Jenny performs a variety of music for Memory Lane Oxford, alternating between solo performances and sing-alongs. She performs songs from the 1940s – 1970s, including fondly remembered classics and comic tunes, such as We’ll Meet Again, Que Sera, Sera and Don’t Dilly Dally on the Way. Residents can also expect to hear jazz and musical theatre such as My Fair Lady, and currently, Jenny’s Dad accompanies on piano – a valuable contribution to the buzzing atmosphere.
At this point in our discussion, Jenny tells me of her plans to include numerous classical songs, arias, and operettas in her sessions (spanning French, Italian, German and English), and I begin to become rather envious of her talent. Faure’s Clair de lune; Mozart’s aria, Voi, che sapete, from The Marriage of Figaro; and the operetta, The Sun, Whose Rays Are All Ablaze from The Mikado (Gilbert and Sullivan) are just three of many.
The Magic of Music
I was curious to find out more about the experience for participants, particularly the specific musical benefits for dementia sufferers. “It’s a very uplifting experience,” she says, not just as a sociable occasion for residents but also for carers, who take a moment to join in and see the residents come together. Singing is good for breathing and posture, but can also reduce stress and heart rate, and improve low mood. For dementia, the impact can be astounding: singing acts as brain training and helps bring back long-term memories, especially from youth. According to this NHS blog, music connects strongly with our emotions and memory, but also maintains speech and language, and enhances quality of life.
When asking Jenny about her favourite aspects of her work, she says, “I come away really uplifted if people enjoyed it,” adding that residents are often keen to participate and have a laugh. “It gives me a lift as well,” she adds with a smile. I don’t need to ask any more questions to understand the huge impact and collective spirit that Jenny gifts to our local community.
Jenny plans to get Memory Lane Oxford up and running in the very near future. A website is currently being created in collaboration with PODTech, the parent organisation of REACH Local – so watch this space. In the meantime, if you have enquiries about Memory Lane Oxford, please contact Jenny at email@example.com.
Information about dementia and support available can be found on the NHS website.
If you’re interested in reading more about new, local businesses in Oxfordshire, head to our other REACH Local business blogs.