All this time, myself and colleagues have been heartened and amazed at the success of his projects and often commented that, by using the occupation of singing he could be said to be facilitating the well being of each individual in his choir. Maybe he is enabling them to be their own occupational therapist?
In a rather timely coincidence, whilst I was thinking about this concept, (and trying to think how we could contact Gareth to put our ideas to him and see whether he had ever considered aspects of occupational science and occupational therapy principles) Dr Jackie Taylor ran our first online CPD Masterclass entitled: Essential Occupational Science: Putting Occupation back into Occupational Therapy.
An extremely successful and well attended event that over the course of 90 minutes enabled the participants to consider many aspects of occupational science and its links in informing the underlying principles of occupational therapy. With strands of well being and identity threaded through the session, Dr Taylor asked participants to consider the underlying meanings attributed to our occupations, social meaning, occupational integrity, co-occupations and much, much more, ending by reflecting on Whiteford's (2004) suggestion that as occupational therapists we stop trying to define our role, but instead define the underlying perspectives of health and the relationship between health and wellbeing and how, as occupational therapists, we work with that.
Fantastic session Jackie, here's to the next online Masterclass on Change Management delivered by Heather Davidson- see here for more details about the session.
So, back to Gareth............
In watching the latest series I have watched him form a choir in an NHS Trust, a Royal Mail Depot and an airport. An interview with Gareth on the BBC website clearly demonstrates Gareth's beliefs in the importance of singing and of choirs to an individual's confidence, the positive impact on state of mind in addition to the health benefits of posture, breathing etc. He also acknowledges the benefits of a choir in terms of camaraderie and beating fears of isolation.
But it is much more than that.
In the NHS Trust the choir broke down barriers of hierarchy and gave all staff a feeling of belonging to the whole organisation rather than sticking to 'mixing with their own level'. What was interesting, I think, was that Gareth found it hard to get the choir to display an emotional attachment to their singing. Reflecting possibly the fact that the culture in this environment was one of " professional detachment" in order to deal with the rigours and stresses of day to day situations in their working life? This perhaps has resonance with the issue of cultural attitude and how this can impact on ability to engage in occupation. If the 'form' of an occupation requires emotional attachment or display then it can be difficult for someone to engage fully in that occupation of they are unable to do that (either through individual meaning attributed to that occupation or societal expectation).
In the Royal Mail depot, going through change and uncertainty it bridged the gap between management and ground floor staff to improve morale. In the beginning there was a lot of talk about change, controversy and a suggestion that there song should be Morrisey's "Heaven knows I'm miserable now" ("I was looking for a job...."). In addition, a 'playful' hiss went around the room when it was noted that representatives from management were in the choir. Interestingly, Gareth's song choice for them was "We can work it out" by The Beatles. Members of the choir soon began talking about sending a message and delivering a message which could improve relationships (postal terms rather well used here I thought!) and one manager talking about being in the choir meant that they all helped each other along and that " there's no difference between us". I wonder, does this demonstrate rebuilding a community through occupation that impacts on each individual's well being through improved morale, greater job satisfaction and a feeling of being valued in the workplace? "It's given me some pride back in myself" states one choir member. One manager sees the transferability of what is happening "as a choir we work together brilliantly, we help each other, we put up with each other's mistakes and when we get it right it sounds fantastic. Why doesn't this translate to the workplace? What are we missing?"
In the airport it facilitated crossing the divide of landslide and air side staff, with the clear enabling of an individual, still recuperating after a serious accident, to regain an identity and a role. "this (choir) is helping me feel good about myself again and giving me something to do". One member of the choir talks of a common reason for being there,
I tweeted Gareth to say how much I was enjoying the series and to ask if there were any occupational therapists in his choir. He replied!! Apparently there are. So, if anyone reading this is in one of his choirs, is an OT in his NHS choir, or indeed if you are Gareth himself (and I really hope you are reading this) we would love you to get in contact with us to discuss some of these experiences and issues further.