Liberty choir
Unlocking hearts through song

What we do – Mental Health

The overall aim of the Liberty Choir project is to provide for excluded and isolated people (for example, those in secure psychiatric settings or people who are serving custodial sentences) a ‘through the gate’ programme of high-quality singing and social development.

It is designed to help develop skills and self-confidence, open up the world of arts through singing and provide access to new social networks as the participants re-enter the wider community.

How we do this

Springfield Hospital

The crux of the programme is that volunteers from MJ’s four community choirs come into Shaftesbury Clinic, and commit to an eight-week programme, singing alongside the resident patients, staff and carers – and this combination of singers is what is called the Liberty Choir. The intention is that the singing is a continuous programme throughout the year, as this yields the most beneficial results.
The second part of the programme kicks in when the ex-offenders are ready to be released into the community – they join the community choirs, where they recognize familiar faces and friends, are part of a community and enjoy a healthy and fun activity.

Evaluation

An evaluation report, of the 8-week Liberty choir programme, in the Shaftesbury clinic of Springfield Hospital, Tooting, London.
Dr Gillian Mezey, MBBS FRCPsych, Consultant and Reader in Forensic Psychiatry     Read full report

The following are extracts from her report.

She explains that between 12 and 16  patients took  part in the programme “all had a diagnosis of schizophrenia, schizo-affective disorder or personality disorder, and all had committed serious violent or sexual offences and all were legally detained, under the Mental Health Act, for the purpose of treatment. ……..Forensic psychiatric patients represent the most stigmatised and socially excluded of all mental health service users and they encounter high levels of fear and prejudice within society, which impede their recovery and rehabilitation.

Primary benefits included: improved happiness and wellbeing; reduced stigma; increased confidence and self esteem; greater emotional connectedness and communication.

Benefits were also reported for staff and community choir, in terms of wellbeing and negative perceptions of this population of mental health users.

[What was thought to be an] important barrier to recruiting patients to the choir, was the fact that the workshop coincided with the [patients]  with their evening smoking break, which for most patients in secure settings is a much anticipated highlight in an otherwise rather uneventful evening schedule. A provision for a smoking break during the workshop during the workshop was eventually agreed, as a way of encouraging patients to attend, although in the end none of the patients opted to use this.”

“MJ hugged [ a patient] but he was able to cope with it. It wouldn’t have been the same thing if MJ had been more reserved and had held back. She treated them the same as everyone else. She wasn’t wary or cautious and it worked well.”

Staff member

“She made things that are uncomfortable, better” Patient

“It wasn’t such a bad thing to stand up and sort of sit down and feel the vibe of this American lady who goes out of her way to bring about 40 people rehearsing into a chorus where we can all sing and be happy” Patient

“She just reached everybody – even the hardest people to reach. A [patient] hardly did anything in the ward but he came to every single session. It’s the way she was with people.”

Staff member

“She  treated us like respectful people – not just like mental patients.” Patient

“I was unsure how to interact with them, at first, but then I’d come to realise that actually you just do, like anybody else, say ‘How’s your week been?’ You just have a normal conversation….by the end, we all really knew each other and we were all really bonding.” Community choir singer

“I felt trusting that if there was a volatile situation it would be handled. I didn’t even think that something might go wrong.”

Community choir singer

“Sometimes you’d feel almost like this fog starting to lift – even within people’s eyes…”

Community choir singer

Being in that hall for the two hours was like being in a big bubble…somewhere that is not hospital or connected with being unwell. It also made relationships easier with people you may have found difficult to connect to before and created a sense of a shared experience and shared emotions.”

Community choir singer

Dr Mezey’s conclusion: ” The feedback from staff, patients and choir members who participated in the project was overwhelmingly positive. Despite the various difficulties patients may have been experiencing on the wards and in their lives, their attendance was surprisingly consistent. …..For two hours every week, the gym became transformed into a musical, therapeutic space which allowed patients, staff and community choir members to temporarily forget their daily lives. ….The patients were given a free choice over whether to attend or not, unlike many of the ‘therapies’ provided on the wards, and there were many patients who carried on attending the choir, even when they had disengaged with every other activity, or following a difficult week on the ward…..

“The physicality of the singing appeared to help patients to regain a sense of control over their voice and bodies…..and participation in the final concert [for patients friends and family members] instilled a real sense of pride, not only in the participating patients, but also in their family members and staff, who witnessed their achievement….

“The experience made many staff members question their occasional low expectations of, and aspirations for, this patient group.”