Willow House: Fiona Chapman

Posted on 06 February 2013 | Audio, Narrative

Our York story began probably about 14, 13 years ago...

We moved here when our middle child was just one and I was working in Leeds and we had a nanny and it was all really, well.  It came to a head really when I had to ask the nanny who to invite to my daughter’s third birthday party because I didn’t know who her friends were and it was at that point that we really, I suppose, put roots down for the first time in our marriage because we’d been renting and moving around.

I’d made a choice at 18 between going to university to do languages or to go to music college and I chose to do the languages because I wanted to travel and I felt I would always have my music to enjoy.

And I have a friend who’s a community artist here and she said do you know, because I said to her I’d like to do what you do but with music, and she said: “oh, there’s an MA at York University”

And I just sort of sat on it for a while and I sort of thought well actually nothing ventured nothing gained or lost really, so he took me onto the MA and that was fantastic it was an absolutely life affirming experience.

While I was doing it I realised that there was this big gap in the market, in inverted commas, not just in York but nationally, but obviously York is where we were already living and wanted to stay and I thought actually probably the easiest most structured way of doing it would be to work in care homes because, I mean this is a few years ago but, and the council have been working hard on it but, you know, there’s that old thing of people sat in care homes and just sort of waiting to die…

I don’t think actually it has to be like that and what happened was that I approached the council with this idea I’d sort of developed a plan about what I wanted to do and it turned out it was a sort of meeting of minds really. So we did the first 12 months and it went really, really well and the objectives really were to improve the quality of life of people, to improve their wellbeing, to engender a greater sense of community amongst the residents in care homes.

It is very personalised, I know everybody individually, I know the songs they like. They love their old songs, as you’ve seen, but I’ve done enough sing-along type things to know that it’s very comfortable for them, you know, they all sing a long for a bit, then they might think I’ll just have a bit of a snooze or, I’ll just pop off now because I know she’ll be back next week to do a few more songs.

And I wanted it to be a bit more of a challenge, the idea being that there would also be a sort of boost to their self-esteem if I could give them some things to try and do, musically, and then to help them achieve that, that that would sort of increase their confidence because confidence is something that really plummets when you become physically and emotionally dependent.

And there are some old people who just like old songs, but there are also a lot of old people who are really open minded and they’re up for anything! I did heavy metal with them once, and you know there was one lady who was going “Oooh, he sounds like he’s got a sore throat” but there was another lady sorting of going “Yep, you can tap your feet to this, can’t you?” and she was really up for it!

You know, It’s not rocket science but it’s the combination of the activity, everyone being together that energises and stimulates and gets them doing stuff with each other and talking. I mean the staff always say that, you know, it’s just so lovely to see them actually talking to each other in a way that they often don’t when they’re just sitting in the living room.

I’ve really only had positive feedback from people which obviously, for your own professional sort of self-esteem, that’s very rewarding to know that what you’re doing is making a difference, people like what you’re doing, you know my mind is always ticking over, what can we do next, how can we take it to the next level?

This story and the others featuring on our website this week (w/c 5th November 2012) have been gathered by volunteers at the University of York.