All Mapped Out: The County Of Song

Lancashire singing its way to be a national leader in social prescribing
Colin Petch
May 23, 2024

We (obviously) LOVE Maps at Mag North, so we're proper chuffed to shout about an innovative new partnership between Arts Lancashire, Lancashire County Council, Preston City Council and Encounter Festival:

Lancashire: County of Song has launched an online map to showcase the rich and numerous singing opportunities across the county. Over 100 choirs are already on the map, which has been developed in partnership with the National Centre for Creative Health, charting grass roots singing across the county toshow people how and where they can access a choir or singing group near to wherethey live.

Now, Lancashire: County of Song are calling for people to share the map through their networks; for choirs to get in touch with up-to-date information, and for groups not already on the map to add themselves, particularly youth singing opportunities and dementia-friendly sessions.

The map is just one of the initiatives by Lancashire: County of Song (LCoS) to elevate the profile of singing across the region in recent months. Supported by Arts Lancashire and Lancashire County Council, in collaboration with Horse + Bamboo and Encounter Voices, LCoS has promoted public events, conducted outreach visits, developed partnerships, commissioned a piece of music, and started creating a recruitment toolkit for community choirs in Lancashire, in addition to launching the mapping project.

To date, 455 participants have engaged in events and workshops involving 16 different choirs covering Lancaster, Wyre, Preston and Rossendale. This included the immersive singing experience “Voices of the Polar Night” at the Whitaker Museum in Rossendale, which attracted a diverse audience. Notably, 72% of attendees had never been to a choral event before, and 33% were visiting The Whitaker for the first time, demonstrating that Lancashire: County of Song is successfully introducing new audiences to choral music and expanding the reach of Lancashire’s cultural organisations. New work was created in March 2024 with the commissioning of the ‘River Runs’ in partnership with Lancaster Arts supported by Historic England. This project explored the singing heritage of the Mill Race area in Lancaster, with oral history research and public workshops, providing new opportunities for local artists including Encounter Voices, the Bay Singers and soloist, Emma Williams.

Lancashire Encounter (Image: Michael Porter Photography)
Lancashire Encounter (Image: Michael Porter Photography)

During Creativity and Wellbeing week (20-26 May), a partnership between London Arts in Health Forum and the Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance; Loz Kaye, Director, Lancashire: County of Song, will speak at a webinar run by the National Centre for Creative Health, introducing the map and discussing County of Song as creative infrastructure.

Loz explained: “Creativity and Wellbeing week is the perfect time to launch the Lancashire Community Singing Map. As well as positioning Lancashire as a place where access to singing is easy, varied and local, LCoS is working with health partners to promote the numerous physical and mental benefits of singing.

"Singing for people with dementia has shown to stimulate memory responses and promote a sense of social bonding. Singing can also have a helpful role in managing breathlessness and symptoms of chronic lung diseases. If you have specific health needs you can use the map search for groups that address them. We hope this will become a tool helping to continue to grow community singing in Lancashire as well as reflecting how the grassroots choir scene is thriving in Lancashire.”

County of Song has been working alongside health providers and universities to develop plans to attract funding to Lancashire, in particular to support singing work for people with dementia and their family, friends and carers.

Elaine Ryan-McNeill, Creative Health Associate for Northwest - National Centre for Creative Health is clear: “The County of Song Community Choir Map is a great example of what can be achieved when we work collaboratively to visualise the strength of our community assets. Seeing the range and number of community choirs in Lancashire, encourages us to think about further creative health opportunities that we can develop to support health and wellbeing and address health inequalities. There is a growing evidence base demonstrating the benefits of singing or playing music in a group. Singing as part of a group or choir can improve mental health and wellbeing, as well as combating loneliness and isolation. Research studies show that singing can support lung health and be used to help alleviate symptoms for conditions such as dementia and Parkinson’s. This map is a great example of a grassroots community choir infrastructure which provides huge benefits for the people of Lancashire.”

Meanwhile, the search for the first cohort of Lancashire singing champions continues. In the coming months, Lancashire: County of Song will announce an Autumn/Winter events programme for 2024; launch a brand new recruitment toolkit for choirs providing support for partnership building and the development of youth to adult community singing progression routes.

The Bay Singers And 'River Runs'
The Bay Singers And 'River Runs'

Stephen Sandford, Chief Allied Health Professions Officer, NHS Lancashire and South Cumbria Integrated Care Board said: “One of Lancashire’s great strengths is our range of singing groups so closely embedded within their own communities from the ground up. Our county has the potential to be a leader in social prescribing – connecting people to activities and services that meet practical, social and emotional needs that positively impact on their health and wellbeing. There is certainly more we can do in this area, and the Community Singing Map infrastructure is a great tool to support signposting to meet people’s needs. Ella Fitzgerald said, 'the only thing better than singing, is more singing.' I feel that's particularly true for Lancashire, given our rich, diverse musical heritage and its direct link with health outcomes for our communities.”

The Lancashire Community Singing Map can be viewed, shared and added to HERE

Header Image: Participants at a Lancashire County of Song 'River Runs' workshop