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Participation in structured music activities is proven to increase happiness and wellbeing for unpaid female carers

Participation in structured music activities is proven to increase happiness and wellbeing for unpaid female carers

An initial evaluation of eight music projects funded by Spirit of 2012 and targeting girls and women who care for others, shows an uptick on average wellbeing indicators particularly for life satisfaction, feeling worthwhile and happiness.

The Carers’ Music Fund projects target women and girls who are lonely and isolated because of their caring responsibilities. These ten projects engage girls and women in music activities with the aim of reducing loneliness, improving their mental health and wellbeing, and challenging and changing gendered perceptions of and attitudes towards caring. The Carers’ Music Fund has been made possible by funding Spirit of 2012 has received from the Tampon Tax Fund, awarded through the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

Learning was built into the programme from the outset to find out what works in reducing loneliness and improving wellbeing of unpaid female carers. The research was carried out by fund learning partners Apteligen and What Works Wellbeing between September 2019 and March 2020, predating the first Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, and explored the impact of participation in the programmes on 287 girls and women of different ages, with different caring responsibilities.

Among the findings, the report showed that, by the end of the first cohort:

  • The average wellbeing of female carers had improved across the personal wellbeing measures, particularly for life satisfaction, feeling worthwhile and happiness.
     
  • Overall, improvements were larger among adult carers and carers who were not working, while for young carers, life satisfaction improved more than any other personal wellbeing measure.
     
  • Improvements were smaller for full-time carers, likely reflecting the considerable caregiver burden faced by this group.
     
  • Nearly half of participants (42%) said they felt ‘a lot better’ about their life and future after attending Carers' Music Fund project sessions.
     
  • ‘Doing something as part of a group’ and ‘time away from caring responsibilities’ were the most commonly cited reasons (80% and 67% respectively), suggesting that the Fund’s projects may be strengthening the social networks of participants as well as reducing levels of stress associated with the caring role.
     
  • By the end of the project, just over half the sample (51%) said they were ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ likely to continue to be involved in some sort of musicmaking, reflecting high levels of satisfaction with the project and potentially a new interest for participants that may improve wellbeing over the long-term.Evidence from the Centre points to a range of health and wellbeing benefits of structured music and singing interventions, in particular, reducing loneliness, anxiety and depression in older adults. For vulnerable groups, singing in a collective setting appears to facilitate relationship-building and increase engagement with the community. Among healthy adults, being a member of a music ensemble can also enhance subjective wellbeing and may provide a vehicle for identity construction.

“Our participants talk a lot about feeling low or desperate and this often seems to be in connection with their relationship to the outside world.”

Carers’ Music Fund Project Leader

Evidence from the Centre points to a range of health and wellbeing benefits of structured music and singing interventions, in particular, reducing loneliness, anxiety and depression in older adults. For vulnerable groups, singing in a collective setting appears to facilitate relationship-building and increase engagement with the community. Among healthy adults, being a member of a music ensemble can also enhance subjective wellbeing and may provide a vehicle for identity construction.

The Carers’ Music Fund Learning Partnership is led by the What Works Centre for Wellbeing, working alongside programme evaluators, Apteligen, the Behavioural Insights Team, and national membership charity for carers, Carers UK, to ensure that the awarded projects ground their work in the latest research on wellbeing and loneliness.

Margherita Musella, Evaluation Lead at the What Works Centre for Wellbeing said: "This data shows that the Carers' Music Fund is successfully reaching groups with low wellbeing. Learning from this wide range of projects will help us to improve our understanding of how music-making interventions can affect the wellbeing and loneliness of women and girls who are carers". 

Amy Finch, Head of Programmes and Learning at Spirit of 2012 said: “Unpaid carers, and especially female unpaid carers are at high risk of loneliness and isolation. This fund and work – where we use existing mechanisms and test and learn our Theory of Change – is really important in understanding how carers experience loneliness and sheds light on how participatory music-making activities can benefit their wellbeing.”

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the Carers’ Music Find projects has been twofold, often resulting in an increased burden of responsibility on carers themselves, and a fundamental change in the way that the projects – which are participatory ­­– are delivered. While digital alternatives have allowed projects to reach more people, there are negative consequences, notably the digital divide and the challenge in achieving genuine respite for carers whilst at home. For more insights into the impact of lockdown on music participation programmes, read the accompanying blog on the What Works Centre for Wellbeing website.

Download the report here.