Come Tuesday lunchtime it’s smiles all round in the activity room of Hamilton’s St Joans care centre – smiles brought about by the sound of ukuleles.
Leading the musical lesson is Harry Forte, a Year 13 student of St Paul’s, and it’s clear he is getting as much enjoyment from the session as the elderly folk sitting in front of him.
Harry, along with fellow St Paul’s students Genevieve Scott-Jones and Alice Emeny, started ukulele lessons at St Joans this year, offering to give up one lunchtime per week to teach the residents how to play.
For some of the residents, it is the first time they have held an instrument. Others suffer from arthritis or dementia, however this doesn’t stop them picking up a ukulele and giving it a go.
At the beginning of the year, Harry approached Glenys Holden, St Joans’ Motivational Therapist, to suggest the idea. Having already started ukulele groups with both primary school children and St Paul’s students, he wanted to share his love of the instrument with the elderly.
“This is the first time something like this has been implemented on an ongoing basis and it is absolutely wonderful. Harry and the students have a great way with the residents,” says Mrs Holden.
“The residents look forward to it every week and during the school holidays they miss it. It creates such a lovely atmosphere and encourages them to really come out of their shells,” she says.
Each week there is at least three St Paul’s students taking the lesson. They are also joined by the care centre volunteer Tom Booth, who comes in specifically to play with the group.
“Some do have a problem with their hands and holding the ukulele, but that doesn’t matter, the important thing is they are getting involved and being social. They also sing, which is good for their lungs and music just makes everyone happy,” says Mrs Holden.
After seeing the success of the ukulele lessons, Mrs Holden asked the students if they would be willing to offer art classes as well, and there was no hesitation. The same students now dedicate Wednesday lunchtimes to art with the residents.
“Music and art are things that bring people back to when they are younger. To be able to offer both these sessions to the residents is having a really positive impact on their wellbeing,” says Mrs Holden.
For the students, their visits to St Joans provide an opportunity to de-stress away from busy school life. “It’s also really changed our perspectives on how we view the older generation and even our own lives,” says Harry.
They’ve been treated to some fascinating stories of war times, as well as meeting the 103-year old resident, Jean Green, who’s husband donated the land on which St Paul’s was built.
“We aim to make the rest home a happier place and to engage with the outside community. We have all observed a lift in mood while we've been going, and they have really made us feel like part of the family. It’s been a life altering experience,” says Harry.
Photo Caption: Sorcha Miles, Genevieve Scott-Jones, care centre volunteer Tom Booth, Harry Forte and Heath Johnson with some of the St Joans residents.