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Breathe Arts Health Research


At London Arts and Health we are always looking to uplift the work that amazing organisations and practitioners are doing through interviews and stories, and we are really pleased to have been able to sit down and chat with Mary Stones, Project Manager for Breathe Sing for Lung Health Warwickshire. Mary spoke to Anna, to tell us more about this brilliant and effective project, and how scaling up beyond London has enabled more people to benefit from the positive effects of singing.

Can you tell us about the Breathe Sing for Lung Health programme?

Breathe Sing is a singing group that offers a supportive and sociable way for patients with long-term lung and respiratory conditions to experience the benefits of singing for lung health. The sessions include physical warm-ups, vocal exercises and a number of songs that aim to support lung health by increasing breath control and easing symptoms of breathlessness.

Breathe Arts Health Research has been successfully working in partnership with Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust to deliver the Breathe Sing for Lung Health Programme in London for 3 years. The group originally met in person every two weeks. During the Covid 19 pandemic, the sessions moved online and now take place weekly via Zoom.

The online programme has flourished and has become a place of social connection, helping combat isolation for those living alone. 

The benefits to participants of the Breathe Sing programme include: 

  • Improved breath control
  • Increased social participation, reducing feelings of isolation
  • Tools for self-management of posture, breath and anxiety 
  • A fun, sociable activity that provides a distraction from breathlessness

Breathe launched an online programme of Breathe Sing for Lung Health in Warwickshire in July  2021. The programme has been developed in partnership with Warwickshire County Council as part of its Creative Health Programme.

Breathe’s Warwickshire programme offers weekly one-hour sessions led by a trained singing for lung health musician over a 10 week period. Sessions take place via Zoom so people can participate from the comfort of their own home. This has been particularly important during the pandemic when many of our participants have been too clinically vulnerable to be able to get out and about. We hoped to be able to resume in-person sessions by now but we are keeping our Warwickshire programme online until it is safe for us to do otherwise.

All of our programmes at Breathe Arts Health Research are allocated a specialist Project Manager. It is their role to manage the referrals process, carry out the necessary admin, host the sessions and, crucially, to provide the main point of contact for participants. This latter role involves keeping in touch with participants, especially if they have missed a session, to make sure all is well. They can also signpost participants to additional help and support if it is required. We believe that the safeguarding offered by Breathe through this model of delivery is vital in providing a high level of duty of care to all our participants.

Can you tell us how participants get referred to the Breathe Sing project?

The sessions are free to participants and are suitable for anyone who has a diagnosed lung or respiratory condition. The referral process for the two Breathe Sing programmes differ slightly:

  • Participants for the programme in London can self-refer but are required to be patients of Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital. We also accept clinical referrals.
  • Participants in Warwickshire can either be referred directly by a health practitioner or can be sent to us as a sign-posted referral.

Participants for both programmes can sign-up by completing an online form, which is available on our website.

In the following film, Breathe Sing [London] participant Alan explains what the programme has meant for him personally during Covid-19, and the positive impact it has had on his daily life.

What impact do you see on the participants, are there any favourite moments you could share about this?

Our online Breathe Sing for Lung Health sessions have provided a lifeline to many during the pandemic. Participants have benefitted from the content of the programme, with a number of participants reporting an improvement in their symptoms. They have also enjoyed social interaction and being connected with others who are experiencing similar conditions and challenges. Participants are invited to join a WhatsApp group to allow them to keep in touch between sessions and after the programme has finished.

There have already been many highlights since we launched the programme in Warwickshire in July, but this question always makes me think of Steve. Steve took part in our first programme. I remember our first phone call after I had received his referral. He wasn’t sure. He couldn’t sing, but he was up for giving it a go. We agreed that he should go along for the first session and just see how he got on. Since then, he has become an evangelist for singing for lung health!

After the first session, Steve emailed me the following message [NB Elisa was the music leader for the programme]:

“I just wanted to say a huge thank you to you and Elisa. I really enjoyed every minute and can’t wait for next week. By the end, my breathing felt so much better and blood oxygen levels went up as well. Absolutely amazing!”

At the end of the programme, he sent me the following messages:

“I have never had so much energy and felt so well. It really is amazing. I no longer fear getting out of breath because I learned how to slow things down and get control back. This course along with the rehab has been the best thing ever and this needs advertising everywhere. I really can’t thank you, Elisa and the whole team for helping me to really live again.”

Why does singing work so well do you think?

All of Breathe’s programmes are built around tangible scientific research findings and evaluation studies. Multiple qualitative research studies support participation in singing programmes for individuals with respiratory conditions, especially COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), indicating improvement in:

  • Physical and mental health and wellbeing
  • Disease management and symptom reduction

Today there are over 100 singing groups across the UK for people with lung conditions. Research continues into their impact and Breathe continues to keep abreast with the latest studies. This includes ongoing research into whether singing for lung health can be beneficial to people experiencing Long Covid and Post-Covid Syndrome.

All musicians that lead Breathe’s Sing for Lung Health programmes have completed The Musical Breath’s specialist singing for lung health training.

What are your hopes for the future of the programme?

Practically speaking, more funding! This will allow us to keep running our programmes in Warwickshire in the longer-term. Ultimately our ambition is to see Breathe Sing for Lung Health programmes commissioned directly from the NHS as a mainstream pathway of care. We would also love to see a safe return to in-person sessions at some point in the not-too-distant future.

If you would like to find out more about the organisation please contact Mary Stones, Project Manager for Breathe Sing for Lung Health, Warwickshire at mary@breatheahr.org.

Or follow @BreatheAHR and for more information head to their website breatheahr.org.

Interview by Anna Woolf, LAH Head of Digital.

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