The Leeside Serotones are a choral group based in Cork, made up of HSE mental health staff, service users and friends. The group developed as part of an Arts + Minds Choral Project, which began in Autumn 2012.
Participants include HSE mental health service users and staff. Core members of the group come primarily from community based mental health settings, but members also attend from long-stay and acute settings where possible. Friends and family members of service users, students and other artists that Arts + Minds work with also join in on occasion.
The Leeside Serotones is an Arts + Minds Cork initiative. Arts + Minds aims to:
- enhance the health and wellbeing of HSE mental health service users through high quality engagement with art
- challenge the stigma faced by mental health service users
- facilitate mental health service users to contribute to the cultural life of their community
- promote the value of the arts within mental health care and recovery
The Leeside Serotones also have additional aims that are discussed and adjusted regularly. These include:
- introducing group members to the fun and positive health benefits of group singing (e.g. enhancing self-confidence and self-expression; improving memory, concentration, rhythm and coordination)
- deepening members’ musical skill and knowledge (e.g. vocal technique, timing, harmony)
- developing a cohesive choral group; encouraging peer support, discussion, feedback and initiative
- performing a minimum of three times per year, at arts and public events, and in mental health settings in particular
The Leeside Serotones repertoire is a mix of popular music and includes reggae, pop, soul, blues and country. Some favourites include Emeli Sandé’s Wonder, Bob Marley’s Is this Love, Perry Como’s Catch a Falling Star and Coldplay’s Fix You. ‘I feel there are two aspects to the group, one is that they love to enjoy the really well-known and upbeat fun songs and the other is that they love, really love, to sing songs that will comfort people,’ Rachel Healy, Choral Leader. The group is working on developing two, three and four-part harmonies in 2016 and also discussing the possibilities of working with a songwriter to write and create their own song in 2017.
Songs for workshops are suggested by individual group members, who often do research during the week looking for new songs, and by the Choral Leader. The vocal fit and appeal of the song is then explored by the group. Songs for performance are selected initially by the Choral Leader, but are then discussed and agreed by the group.
The choir meet from January to May and September to December each year. During this nine-month period they meet once a week in a city centre (non HSE) setting, and occasionally more often if there are performances planned. Workshops are approximately one hour in duration, often followed by discussion. Members of the group then go to a café nearby for coffee / lunch (this tradition was initiated by the group). A core group of 25 people attend the workshop each week; there are approximately 30 members of the group in all.
The project is supported by an advisory group that includes HSE staff, a service user, the Choral Leader and the Arts + Minds Co-ordinator. The advisory group meets regularly and facilitates regular discussions with the wider group at workshops.
For numerous reasons, including confidentiality and fear of stigma, The Leeside Serotones did not always want to perform, even within mental health settings. This aspect of the project developed over time. As members’ levels of confidence, camaraderie, choral expertise and ambition increased so did their wish to showcase their skills. Performances started gradually, initially within mental health settings, then in community and other health settings.
In October 2013, The Leeside Serotones took part in a flash mob performance at an event in Crawford Art Gallery. Since then the group has performed at Arts + Minds showcase events and in Cork City Centre (carol singing). The group’s level of ambition continues to climb and discussions are underway about new artistic and performance goals.
All Arts + Minds projects use a Project Plan which means project aims (artistic and health), time frame, budget etc. are all agreed in advance. The Project Plan is reviewed regularly and achievements, challenges and lessons learned are discussed and recorded.
Each project also has a logbook available at workshops; project participants, staff and artists are encouraged to include feedback about what is working well and what could be done better. Learning continually informs future planning.
Evaluation of the project has just been conducted internally to date. Feedback is gathered through formal (facilitated) and informal discussion and the use of logbooks. Comments include:
‘A little scary at first. In the past in school, my music teacher told me I can’t sing, so I never got involved again. But confidence grew and now I really like it’ – Group member
‘I really enjoyed the whole experience of singing as part of a choir. The artist was wonderful and we improved by leaps and bounds. Although we were learning serious singing techniques there was the fun element as well. All in all, it was worth every bit of effort we put in. It was great.’ – Group member
‘It’s different because you are not talking about your illness, you are not discussing that, you are not discussing your medication. You are just like any other person when you are in there, you are just having a laugh and singing… just like any other person.’ – Group member
‘I didn’t feel like a client’ – Group member
‘If I can do that in the choral group, maybe I can do a little more outside…’ – Group member
‘Sometimes staff think patients, because they are patients, don’t have the ability or skill that they do… it’s just amazing to see people with that [creative] ability and you would not see that unless they were in the choral group.’ – Staff member
‘… service users see me differently as well. It’s all so positive.’ – Staff member
‘… that’s far more beneficial than antidepressant medication. Did I just say that?’ – Staff member
The project has seen a significant shift with regard to stigma; the majority of group members no longer have the same unease about being linked with the mental health services and are proud of what they have achieved and of the joy they can bring to others when they perform. Singing in mental health settings is particularly important to the group, where they feel they can also bring hope and signs of recovery.
The Serotones Project Advisory Group (service user, staff, artist and co-ordinator) think a number of factors may have assisted with this shift regarding stigma:
- the focus on artistic quality and challenge (facilitated by high calibre artists): members are proud of their achievements and ongoing artistic development, ‘I am so much more than my illness when we sing‘ (group member)
- the focus on engaging with the wider arts and local community: members do not feel quite so marginalised and contact and familiarity with people experiencing mental ill health is increased
- the group is described as involving ‘mental health staff, service users and friends’ – this phrasing was agreed by the group and is useful as it is not necessarily clear who is who
- The longterm nature of the project has enabled relationships to develop and trust to build; this has facilitated a greater degree of creative experimentation and risk in a delicate and challenging area of work.
Documentation and Dissemination
A video documentary has been made about The Leeside Serotones. The documentary (19 min, Arts + Minds, 2014) was made by filmmaker Colm Walsh with support from a Cork City Council Arts in Context Award. The documentary is currently only available through a private link on YouTube as we do not have consent from all contributors to make it public. However, if someone is particularly interested in seeing the documentary, please contact Arts + Minds at email@example.com. It can be made available in certain instances.
Information about The Leeside Serotones is also available at artsandmindscork.com: sign up to the blog (at the bottom of the home page) to receive regular updates.
- HSE Cork Community Mental Health Services in Togher, Ballyphehane, Mahon and Blackrock
- St. Michael’s Unit, Mercy Hospital
- South Lee Mental Health Unit, Cork University Hospital
The project began in Autumn 2012 and is ongoing once a week for 9 months each year
Arts + Minds
Arts + Minds and The Leeside Serotones are supported by funding from the HSE Cork Arts and Health Programme and Cork Mental Health Services.
The Leeside Serotones also received an Arts in Context Award from Cork City Council in 2013.
Funders also include The Quay Co-Op in Cork, who provide the workshop venue at a reduced rate, and Suits Distributors, who kindly sponsor all of the male participants' outfits for performance.
Liz Powell, Rachel Healy
Primary Care/ Community Health
Nature of project