Pop-up! Dementia-Awareness Choir

Dementia is a common condition that is commonly misunderstood. Stigma and fear can lead to people losing confidence to do the things they've always done, and consequently becoming socially isolated. Dementia Friendly Leeds took a creative approach to overcoming some of the misunderstandings.  

They held a pop up choir to surprise shoppers in St Johns Shopping Centre, and raise positive awareness of dementia. Guest blogger Sarah Goodyear, Leeds Older People's Forum Dementia Friendly Worker, shares an account: 

“When you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you”

This ‘pop up choir’ idea started with a determination to share a more positive message about living with dementia. 

Newspapers articles often use words such as ‘suffering’ and ‘despair’. Of course, dementia can be very challenging at times. It affects everyone differently, and people should be aware of just how difficult living with dementia can be. However, there are other inspiring sides to the story. 

A 93-year-old woman still played the piano for her local church group. She couldn't read music any more but ‘knew most hymns by memory’. A gentleman who had never spoken in front of a crowd in his life, now speaks to large crowds without a script, to talk positively about his experiences of dementia. A woman who still makes all her own clothes has set up a support group for other people with dementia.

I wish everyone could meet the people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting – there would be a lot less fear and stigma around the subject of dementia if they could.

‘Just direct your feet… to the sunny side of the street…”

I wondered how we could show that people with dementia are still able to do fun, impulsive things and contribute to their local community. We decided to harness the power of singing, and set about planning a surprise pop up choir event.

St John’s Centre in Leeds was wonderfully enthusiastic and helpful, allowing us to take over their centre one Saturday to sing!

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On the day itself, I was very nervous. However, I didn’t need to worry – over 30 people showed up to sing.  We had a lovely mix of singers from The Rock Choir, local singing groups and members of the community who wanted to support. After a quick practise, we split into small groups and pretended to shop, waiting for our musical cue…

“Here comes the sun, and I say, it’s alright”…

The music started, and three singers came down the escalators singing. More voices joined. Shoppers turned in surprise and started to crowd round. They were smiling, we were all smiling too – it was working! By the second song we were in the swing of it, we were dancing, laughing, and people were stood taking pictures and joining in. By the end, it felt it was over too soon, but on our way out, we were still singing ‘keep on smiling’ on our way to our celebratory tea and cake – and the pouring rain didn’t dampen our mood!

We took advantage of having the audience's attention by handing out information sheets, to clear up some of those common misunderstandings about dementia. 

It was such a wonderful feeling when singers and shoppers came together, and we saw how we’d brightened their day. We weren’t ‘Lady with a neurological condition’ or ‘Carer’ or ‘Dementia Worker’. We were just us.  We were unified, joyful, and sharing a vital message that people with dementia are first and foremost, people. 

And, they can really bust some moves too. 

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