Covid 19 Member Impact Report
Kate Hamilton November 2020
Accolade (Connecting People through music) has successfully developed a number of music projects over the last eight years including; three cross-community/cultural choirs based in Newry and Banbridge, adult ukulele groups and chamber orchestra. The organisation membership comprises over ninety members from the Newry and Down Council area and Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon District Council areas, music projects also comprise multiple nationalities from across the world and the average age of members are 65, the majority over 70 years old.
2.0 Structure and Funding
Accolade is a registered charity with Charities Commission N.I. and is managed by a voluntary committee. The organisation has been funded over the years from a variety of sources, including; Lottery, Arts Council and Peace IV to name only a few. Accolade has also secured some private donations in addition to their own fundraising efforts to support and develop activity. Accolade’s success in securing funding over the last eight years, is a measure of capability to deliver programmes to individuals and the wider community as highlighted in their funding evaluation.
3.0 Covid 19 Pandemic
In March 2020 the unfolding, ramifications and fear associated with the Covid 19 pandemic saw Accolade (in line with government guidelines) suspend all face to face workshops, performance preparation work, care home visits, weekly face to face practice and public performances. The impact of suspension to all Accolade projects; Newry choir, Banbridge choir, Studio voices choir, ukulele group, orchestra and management committee monthly meetings.
In line with Peace IV funding terms and conditions as stated above, Accolade had completed an evaluation of the project in February 2020, the conclusions of the report highlighting the huge and positive impact to members, specifically on the social, emotional, physical health and well being, the report findings backed up by research papers from the most prestigious universities across the world including Oxford university.
‘Choir singing improves health, happiness’.
Jacques Launay, Postdoctoral Researcher in Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford
Aware of the huge impact lockdown would have on an already vulnerable and isolated members, Accolade held an emergency management committee meeting in March 2020 using zoom with artistic directors to discuss the way forward.
The recommendations from the meeting to develop an online programme of workshops across all projects to connect people using the medium of zoom and YouTube singing, instrument instruction video’s as well as fun activities including quizzes, games and individual performances. Accolade also produced a newsletter updating and informing members about zoom activity.
As a result of the encouraging numbers attending and successful outcomes from zoom workshops, Accolade wrote to Arts Council who agreed that Accolade could fulfil the funding terms and conditions of the current grant using the medium of zoom and YouTube video’s.
Over the summer months when restrictions were relaxed, Accolade arranged where possible some outdoor workshops following strict social distancing measures. Accolade also secured funding in October from Arts Council to develop a project ‘Music for Life.’ A studio was set up by Accolade artistic directors in their home where they recorded individual members from the three choirs and using technology, combined the voices of participants and produced the song
‘Count on Me by Bruno Mars.’ The song is available to view on the Accolade Facebook page.
4.0 Membership Survey
Accolade has used zoom for the last eight months and in an attempt to ascertain the success of zoom and future viability of continuing virtual workshops as part of a critical risk assessment, Accolade has surveyed its membership.
For the purposes of expediency and in the absence of having survey software, Accolade developed a simple and short questionnaire contacting members using both email and telephone calls from their data base made by Accolade volunteers. The simple survey questionnaire crosses all of the projects Newry choir, Banbridge choir, studio voices, community chamber orchestra and ukulele groups. Please note that some members are belong to other music groups and have completed one survey. It should be noted that some Accolade members are part of several groups
6.0 Survey Results
6.1 Response rate
A total of 81 surveys were completed.11 people did not respond representing an 88% response rate.
Q1. Have you participated in Accolade Zoom practices Yes/No
81 people responded
44 people confirmed they had availed of zoom practice workshops
37 responded they had not.
If no, please give your reasons;
11 people responded as follows:
7 people said they were not interested in using zoom.
3 people identified that they didn’t know how to use zoom
1 person said they could not get the hang of zoom.
Q2. If you have not used Zoom before would you like help to learn how to use it?
17 people responded as follows:
- 14 people said no they would not like to learn to use zoom
- 3 people said yes they would like to learn to use zoom
Q3. If you have answered yes, have you found workshops to be beneficial Yes/No, please state the reason?
47 people responded as follows:
- 44 people confirmed that zoom helped them connect to others and practice.
- 3 people said that they could not see zoom continuing long term
A number of people made the following comments
- Not all people have large screens so found it difficult seeing everyone online.
- It was nice to see familiar faces and to socialise
- Lovely to see people we know
- Gives us a lift to see each other
- Helps me when learning new songs
- Provides an opportunity to sing once a week
- Zoom helped me build my confidence to sing in front of people
- Participating in the production of the video count on me was really a lift, we had to practice and then perform on our own which was great for developing self confidence.
- Zoom is not ideal but it certainly was great in helping us connect to each other
- Great to see everyone and catch up
- Zoom was a life line all through lock down, the work Vessie and Nikolay put into making workshops interesting, fun while learning new songs was great.
Q4. Has the online zoom sessions made lockdown easier and if so why?
58 people responded
44 people said yes zoom sessions made lockdown easier,
11 people said no
2 people said they were not sure.
Comments made as follows:
- It is great to keep in touch. I enjoyed the games/quiz which kept it interesting
- Zoom is not for me
- It’s great for social aspect and to learn new songs and build up confidence.
- A break from the normal and because I'm a key worker it was good to escape
- Learning and progressing, connecting with people when many social activities have ceased Ø Keeps us in touch and practising
- Social interaction. I look forward to seeing Vessie, Nikolay and group, I feel less isolated
- Love the virtual meet up, seeing and keeping in touch with friends, learning new songs
- Made me practice and something to keep in touch
- Keeping in touch so important. Met up with other men from choir to do zoom - social interaction
- Great to see friends, laughing, singing and playing together does make lockdown easier Ø Lovely to keep in touch, not feel activities lost. A bit of almost normality! It's good to sing!
- Was still working part of lockdown and doing work at home so kept busy
- Stressful when equipment doesn't work all the time and then you miss any other updates
- Concentration not good during lockdown. Lost interest in music a bit
- Continue social interaction with friends and Nikolay and Vessie/structure day/something to look forward to
- Very social and great to see everybody including Vessie and Nikolay
- Great opportunity to sing and play, see friends, something to look forward to, still learning
- Great to see friends and catch up
- Good to make contact with members
- I would be happy to sing in the choir when everything is back up and running again
- Great to sing and learn, although found it difficult with more complex songs but found zoom frustrating only hearing one person
- Helped with feeling of isolation as I'm primary carer for elderly mother with dementia I'm still working and carrying on as normal only busier
- Great way to have a bit of fun, see how others are doing and keep the singing going
- Haven't been able to get on but would like to try it
- I will be happy to be back at choir as soon as it’s safe to meet up Ø Good to see everyone and keep practising
- Seeing some friendly faces and using my skills. And no pressure
- Having contact with people is so beneficial to mental health. Able to keep singing
- Isolation can be overwhelming, good to continue social activities and hobbies
- I look forward to it/doing something I love/chat/ share experiences of lockdown
- Yes. but, will only participate in the ukulele if there is a different format
- Great to see everyone and learn and practice new parts
- Social contact, learning and practicing new parts, great for mental health and isolation
- Workshops provide a little bit of normality and a chance to socialise, good for mental health
- Helps people stay connected. Promotes good mental wellbeing both musically and socially
- Definitely helped me get through lockdown, I am really looking forward to the time we can be together again
Q5. When restrictions are relaxed over the next months will you feel confident to return to group practice under social distancing regulations, in possibly smaller groups if Accolade secure suitable venues? Yes/No please give your reasons
77 people responded as follows:
- 67 respondents confirmed that yes they would feel confident to return to group practice
- 5 respondents said no because they were nervous about their age
- 3 people responded were not sure.
- 2 people said they would wait until there is a vaccine
- 1 person said only if numbers participating were low.
Q6. Are you happy to continue to participate in workshops using Zoom in the absence of being able to physically meet? Yes/No please state reason
81 people responded
- 54 people said yes they were happy to continue using zoom.
- 23 people said no
- 4 people not sure
Comments were made as follows:
- Not sure as not keen on zoom
- I think that the sessions are run very well in all the circumstances
- Yes. I think it works well
- Not sure. I could get more confident with Zoom. Still learning
- Yes. Works well and keeps us connected. Good fun
- Yes. but, will only participate in the ukulele if there is a different format
- No. Not benefiting my singing as much as proper choir
- No. Don't like zoom
- Not benefiting my singing as much as proper choir
- I need advice on how to make the experience better for me
Q7. Do you have any suggestions that might improve the online session experience?
- Improve sound if possible
- Chords up on screen would help so we can play along
- I enjoy the interaction in the zoom meetings
- Maybe ask for numbers to confirm attendance and only run it if enough people can join in
- Works well in current format. May be helpful to receive the sheet music
- Choir parts recorded in advance of session
- With uke - if we all play a couple of lines solo so V or N can see how we are progressing
- Uke: only one person speak at time as otherwise hard to hear. If we get homework week beforehand (with link) we can practice
- I think with the ukulele sessions it is a help to have the chords on screen, rather than having to search through folders
- Prefer jamming session when I can hear everyone play as this helps me change chords and with strumming
- Ensure person playing/singing is not interrupted by others who are unmuted. Encourage any group members to perform their favourite song
- Choir works well but ukulele can be noisy and hard to hear.
- Perhaps we could have a joint choir session with all choirs to provide opportunity to chat to all
- Good that session has some chat - zoom is more tiring than attend choir/ It is easier to sing the parts when the accompaniment is played
- Until everyone can experience the session I don't think there is anything that can be done
- With good weather I preferred to be outdoors. I find it easier to attend group in winter months
- Zoom is very hard to get used to
- Happy with it
- Ukulele tuning should be done before lesson/choice
- More fun. Time to talk include some time for jam session. Feel we could play more
- Setting of ground rules for sessions. Time for socialising and sharing at the end of each session
- Time for socialising and chat, ground rules for sessions
- Good to keep it interesting and varied…i.e. funny hats/colour/quiz
- Happy with it
- Tried Zoom once - not impressed. Enjoy ukulele practice in Park
- I think zoom is as good as it gets now
- If we can't meet up as choir, we could meet in small group numbers to practice by zoom as the boys have. This would need willing hosts
- Ukulele - too many interruptions
- Will be glad to resume group sessions when allowed - better together
7.0 Interview findings with Artistic Directors
Covid 19 has had an enormous impact for both Artistic Directors personally and their ability to deliver funding outcomes and outputs as per the artistic plan. With support from Accolade Management Committee the Artistic Directors quickly responded to the new situation by researching the best technology opportunity to engage members. They concluded that zoom was the only platform available to them and with permission from Management Committee they agreed to subscribe to zoom and to learn about the capacity of using zoom with all of the limitations and difficulties for members.
The new method of reaching members via zoom, whilst providing a medium to continue workshops has impacted both artistic directors, loss of face to face contact and group work has forced Accolade to reinvent new ways to engage with members.
When interviewed both Vessie and Nikolay commented on the initial fear i.e. the real possibility that they may lose their jobs as well as members as the first weeks of the pandemic unfolded.
As the weeks went on both Artistic Directors took heart in the number of zoom attendees and developed in consultation with attendees a programme of activity using new methods of working as described before, the issues addressed as follows:
7.1 Social isolation – Mental Health
As outlined before, the majority of Accolade members from groups are already vulnerable in terms of being socially isolated i.e. a large number of members living on their own and over the age of 65. The impact and importance of music as a medium to engage and facilitate social interaction and the contribution of music to the emotional, physical and well-being of people of all ages has been well documented.
When you browse the internet and read the findings from a variety of research studies currently being carried out about the impact that the pandemic is having on everyone in society, it is clear as lockdown continues that the negative impact Covid 19 is having an enormous impact on the physical, emotional and mental well-being of not only those deemed as vulnerable but also on everyone’s mental health across the world.
The findings and uncertainty of the future emphasising the need to continue and to find new ways to connect with all of Accolade members. With this in mind Accolade developed a new workshop format i.e. carving out time for members to chat socially offering an opportunity for members to speak to each other and to initiate ‘a fun element to workshops’ It is clear from the comments that this has proven to be very successful as members continue to participate each week.
7.2 New Methods of engagement and delivery
Artistic Directors have been teaching zoom participants essential and more in- depth breathing techniques supporting a reduction in anxiety as well as teaching members more detailed techniques for the purposes of singing and maintaining vocal strength. In addition, individual one-to-one zoom calls provide specific teaching to those most in need of additional support for the development of technique and confidence building for new songs.
7.2.2 Home Studio
With the support of Arts Council funding Accolade in conjunction with Malachy Cush produced a number of songs for Christmas. Artistic Directors converted a room in their home into a recording studio using their own equipment i.e. computer and software packages, microphone and sound system to facilitate the individual recording of members in line with government restrictions, guidelines and a comprehensive risk assessment. The production and quality of final video’s produced testament to the investment of many hours of learning for Artistic directors in video editing and is to be commended, the results available to be viewed on Facebook. It should also be noted that the amount of preparation work as well as cleaning hours deployed to ensure the safety of each individual participant has been huge.
- Accolades response to the unfolding of Covid 19 restrictions and development of online zoom workshops, YouTube instruction video’s and social interaction has proven to be very beneficial to the majority of Accolade members who have participated and responded to the survey.
- The difficulties faced by Accolade Artistic Directors in developing a sustainable programme of activity over the last eight months and under very difficult circumstances is to be commended and testament to their creativity and passion for the project.
- Artistic directors need to continue to address some issues as highlighted in this report.
- There is no doubt that zoom with its limitations is not ideal when delivering music projects However, in the absence of any other platform, zoom has achieved a level of connection with members that without zoom Accolade could not have achieved.
- It is clear from responses that whilst most people understand the limitations of the technology of zoom, some people find zoom to be frustrating i.e. inability to hear everyone singing at the same time, format issues etc. as per the response comments, it is also encouraging that most understand the limitations and have adjusted to the new way delivering workshops.
- Whilst it is encouraging that 54 people had used zoom and are prepared to continue to use Zoom in the absence of meeting face to face, it is important to ascertain the reason why 37 members representing 45% of their membership had not.
- We know from Accolade evaluation report produced that the contribution music, singing and performing makes in supporting mental, emotional and physical well-being and it is clear from survey responses that zoom workshops have also contributed positively to mental health during a time of extreme social isolation and disconnection to others. Again, Accolade needs to find out why 45% of members have not used zoom and how not being involved in the project has impacted members.
- It is interesting that zoom has produced a number of new outcomes in terms of encouraging members to sing and play individually in front of others developing self confidence.
- The production of ‘Count on me’ demonstrated the importance of taking responsibility to practice outside of zoom workshops, it is clear from the quality of video produced that participants invested many practice hours to achieve the high standard set by artistic directors.
- It is clear from responses that the majority of members will be happy to return to practice in the future.
- There are examples of members who did not join ZOOM but continued to engage with others members either by telephone or in person as restrictions allowed.
- It is positive that Accolade has continued to “Connect People Through Music” and as a result continues to operate, due largely to Vessie and Nikolay and the relationships formed since the foundation of the organisation in 2013.
- Someone commented that Accolade has survived as it has become a “Community” which has supported each other through challenging times. They also added that Vessie and Nikolay are the “glue keeping us together”.
- Accolade needs to find a way to connect to those members who have not responded to the survey and to those members who have said they do not use zoom but did not offer a reason
- A zoom training should be offered to those members who find zoom difficult to use.
- Funding needs to be secured to allow Accolade Artistic Directors to continue zoom workshops and also to allow them to develop new innovative methods of performing such as the recent ‘music for life’ video production.
- Given the sporadic responses to questions asked, i.e. low number of explanations. Accolade might like to consider securing funding for an online research survey software package and re-surveying members to glean a more accurate picture.
- Accolade should continue to monitor feedback from members and make any adjustment where possible
- Positive outcomes such as the first Accolade video and newsletters should be communicated to funders and other stakeholders to raise the organisations profile.
- The organisation should continue to apply for funding to address additional costs associated with face to face workshops when Government guidance.