Students from the University of Northampton’s School of Health are working with patients living with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) to offer singing sessions – which have been shown to offer both physical and mental benefits.
Building on the experience and enthusiasm gained from their first two years of study, students Angela Prouse and James Wyatt – who are about to start their third year of the Occupational Therapy BSc degree programme – are exploring the benefits of singing as a natural exercise for using the lungs. The project stemmed from the students’ second year Level 5 skills assessment, where they had to seek out research (already published) in respect of the effect of an activity on a particular condition – Angela and James chose singing and COPD, and presented their work as a poster.
Angela explained: “As part of our ‘research’ we had a singing lesson from Tammy Levy (local music artist and teacher) and we also contacted the Royal Brompton in London. The Royal Brompton’s Arts Manager, Karen Taylor invited us to visit and the three of us [Angela, James and fellow student Lauren Spencer] were lucky enough to go and spend the day with their COPD Choir ‘the Breathless Singers’ and their wonderful voice facilitator Kate. We were inspired by our findings, and have since continued with the project.”
With support from the Breathless Singers group and from the University of Northampton’s Centre for Employability and Engagement, the students have built networks between singing and pulmonary support groups in Northampton, and recently facilitated a taster ‘Singing for COPD’ session at a local community centre which was attended by over 40 people. The session included breathing exercises, vocal warm ups and singing.
Angela continued: “The funding kindly provided by the Centre for Employability and Engagement has allowed that first session to grow into a run of six sessions which we have called ‘Singing for Breathing’. From our research we have concluded that singing is good for wellbeing, and we’re offering more sessions to allow extra people to engage in the group. James has now secured further funding from Northampton General Hospital for the project to continue.”
Jenny Devers, tutor in Occupational Therapy at the University of Northampton, explained: “Staff from the London singing group ran the session where we all participated in warm-up breathing exercises and some hearty singing in harmony. Feedback from participants was resoundingly positive and when James and Angela invited questions at the end of the session the unanimous response was ‘when are we going to start the group?’. It’s amazing how on the back of a module assignment, with enthusiasm, commitment and passion students can develop their achievements into something that touches the lives of others! They are a credit to our university and profession.”
Mark Blaber, Employability and Enterprise Manager at the University Centre for Employability and Engagement, commented: “We are delighted to support this innovative initiative from students to address this chronic condition. The project fits well with the University’s Changemaker Challenge of making Northamptonshire the leading county in the UK for health and wellbeing.”
Sue Stacey, secretary for the Easybreathers group which offers support to people with COPD, explained: “The main problem with this condition is the inability to breathe properly so any help to overcome this disability is welcome. We had our first class and the result was brilliant. James was very enthusiastic and determined, giving us all a lot of encouragement, and with the help of his colleague Angela has formed what could be the beginnings of a choir.”
Designed for people with respiratory conditions, the free singing sessions are held at Parklands Community Centre every Wednesday between 1-2pm. Formal diagnosis is not required to attend, and all are welcome.