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Music in Mind: A Centre of Excellence

Giles Wilmore
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It gives me a huge amount of pleasure to announce that Manchester Camerata, which runs the Music in Mind programme, has been awarded the distinction of being Centre of Excellence from The Power of Music Fund, established by The National Academy for Social Prescribing (NASP). This is huge recognition of our achievements to date, and a clear indication of the far-reaching potential that our programme has to improve the wellbeing of people living with dementia.

Although founded by NASP, The Power of Music Fund has received generous support from the Utley Foundation, the Arts Council England and Music for All. Their aim for the Centre of Excellence is to establish a true partnership between health and care providers, voluntary organisations, music providers and dementia support organisations. It will test new approaches to embedding music as part of dementia care, gather evidence of cost savings for the NHS and design new models of care which could be scaled up and spread across England. All of this builds on key recommendations from the 2022 Power of Music report.

Vital to the eventual success of embedding music for dementia care models within the NHS, our proposal is a partnership between Manchester Camerata with NHS Greater Manchester, Greater Manchester Combined Authority, and the Alzheimer’s Society, as well as other voluntary sector partners who will help us deliver our programme initially across Greater Manchester. These partners include Rochdale, Stockport, Tameside, Oldham and Glossop Mind, Together Dementia Support, the Bolton Dementia Support Group and Bluesci in Trafford.

With the new resources available to us as part of this, our plans for the next three years (the duration of this programme) fall into three distinct areas.

Service Delivery in Greater Manchester

Greater Manchester is our home, and the key area in which we have long established connections throughout the NHS, local authorities, voluntary organisations, and dementia support organisations. Our aim is to develop our programme in this area even further, demonstrating the genuine power of music in dementia care on a large and systemic scale.

In the next three years, we plan to deliver a minimum of 40 Music Cafés, 4 in each of Greater Manchester’s 10 boroughs. These Music Cafés will provide two different approaches and choices for people living with dementia; our Music in Mind programme and the Alzheimer’s Society’s Singing for the Brain.

Both groups will be supported by Music Champions: staff and volunteers who are fully trained and supported to deliver the music sessions. We will be committing to training these Music Champions right across Greater Manchester, with the hopes we have 300 by the end of the third year.

Research & Evaluation

The second area of focus will relate to research and evaluation. The Centre of Excellence is intended to help make a solid business case for the NHS and local government to invest in embedding music as part of dementia care. This means that people living with dementia in Greater Manchester who are visiting their GP, or another part of the healthcare system such as a dementia clinic or an Admiral nurse, could be referred through social prescribing to a local Music Café if they want that and the health professional thinks it could be beneficial for them.

We would then ask for consent from that individual or their next of kin to include them in a research study over the course of the three-year programme, assessing their progress and experiences not just in relation to the Music Cafés but also in their wider use of NHS services. This could be how often they visit their GP, any unplanned hospital visits or even the frequency of their prescribed medication. Primarily we will be looking at whether introducing music into their care plan leads to a reduction in their need for healthcare services and an increase in their ability to live independent and fulfilling lives.

All data analysis will be undertaken by our academic partner, Manchester University. They will help present the research findings to show what this would look like for the NHS on a larger scale. Our expectation is that we will be able to provide clear evidence that pressure on GPs and A&E departments could be lessened, as people are able to access care and support and experience an improvement to their wellbeing at home, which is ultimately beneficial to an already hard-pressed NHS.

A National Community of Practice

Our final area of focus as Centre of Excellence will be to lead a national community of practice, sharing the valuable work of all our partners with other NHS integrated care systems, local government and voluntary sector organisations up and down the country. Our hope is that this community will provide a place where anyone involved in this kind of work can go for support, advice, guidance and even evidence and research.

One of the most important parts of such a community, however, is not just us sharing our practices, but also the learning and development opportunities we will have from other examples of music and dementia work around the country. The Power of Music fund also provides small grants it to local charities and organisations producing their own innovative work – we hope to be able to bring these volunteers and staff members together, to collectively share all of our best practice and ensure we all move towards our goals and no one is left in isolation.

Where Next?

It goes without saying that this is a hugely significant award for Manchester Camerata and the Music in Mind programme. We now have much more scope to expand our current service offering and provide a greater, joined up approach between our work and other charities and voluntary organisations and the work of the NHS and local authorities.

Our hope is that by the end of the three-year programme we have been able to make the business case very convincingly that the NHS and local authorities should and must invest nationally in embedding music into dementia care plans. We already know and have plenty of evidence of the therapeutic benefits of music in dementia care, that it can help reduce the need for medication and increase an overall state of wellbeing for people living with dementia, and their families and carers too.

There’s still so much to research on the longer-term effects, examining whether music can also help slow down the progression of dementia and how its effects can vary at different stages of dementia too, but this award is an excellent step on that road. I very much look forward to being able to share our continuing growth and research over the next three years. We hope the results truly are life changing.

News & Media

Click on the news links below to read more on this incredible announcement:

BBC North West Tonight:

BBC North West Tonight – Late News:

BBC Radio 5 Live:

ITV X / Granada:

Manchester Evening News:

Arts Professional:

Classical Music newsletter:

The Manc:

That’s TV Manchester: