Inclusivity in action – all set to music!

28th January 2022

Authors: John Osborne, Director Musicworks Midlands, Farai Pfende, Nottingham Trent University, and Dr Mathew Nyashanu, Nottingham Trent University

To attend a session of the Heron Music Café for Wellbeing is to experience the absolute joy of community music engagement. Within minutes of being present, there can be no doubt of the power of music to bring people together and to help them flourish.

This is perhaps more surprising when you consider the diverse group of attendees who are far from the usual participants in a music group. They come from a wide range of ages, backgrounds, and health conditions. People with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, dementia, Carers, older people and people with physical and mental health conditions all sit alongside each other combatting shared issues of social isolation, loneliness and ill-being through singing. A local pre-school group of three to five-year-old children drop-in and a parent and toddler are drawn to the music and the sheer sense of fun, bringing a multi-generational aspect to the group.

Whilst the notion of singing for wellbeing has a slowly growing body of evidence, all too often we segregate those with “special needs”. People are assigned to groups defined by their condition rather than their personhood. Examples such as dementia cafés, mental health support groups, over 60’s and youth groups can tend to silo people in ways that are unreflective of the interrelation that exists amongst community members day-to-day. In considering the Social Role Valorization theory, the gathering of people according to ‘their own sort’ both physically (disability) and socially (low status) can devalue social roles. In so doing we limit experiences, independence and relationships with others unlike themselves.

The Heron café uses a personalised live music selection based on the range of attendees delivered by a specially trained Music in Care Practitioner. Inevitably singing ensues and you see people transform, connect, laugh, engage and get active according to their own ability. The reticent and the anxious are welcomed, encouraged, and put at ease. Those without language find the rhythm and move and dance; truly a fairer society where people are enabled to be their fullest and best selves.

However, how do we measure and evidence this impact in a group like the Heron café? All too often those who are creative and artistic believe the effects are plain to see and speak for themselves. The danger is this will never allow those who are not physically present to understand and appreciate the profound impact of an inclusive music for wellbeing café. Increasingly there is recognition that evidence-based practice influences knowledge and recognition and attracts funding which is much needed in this practice.

In our article, Evaluating the benefits of an inclusive community singing group towards Wellbeing: narratives of diverse community members attending an inclusive singing group we establish the positive impact of the Heron Café on the Five Ways to Wellbeing: connect, be active, take notice, learn and give. We have seen these key elements emerge through our music sessions. Confidence has grown, people form relationships, meaningfully engage, learn and relearn skills, give and take care of one another and mindfully, take notice of others with different challenges in their lives.

Through this research we were able to conclude that inclusive community singing plays a pivotal role in enhancing social value, relationships, health and wellbeing through this project. We have been able to gain a better understanding of the lived experiences of often excluded community members and share the utility of this type of music project. 

Like many other community wellbeing strategies, sustainable funding remains a challenge. Whilst our health and social care philosophy remains rooted in an inclusive philosophy it is charities such as Musicworks Midlands who facilitate the café. More support is needed to sustain the Heron Music Café for Wellbeing as a matter of social justice, healthy and flourishing communities.



Nyashanu, M., Pfende, F. and Osborne, J., 2021. Evaluating the benefits of inclusive community singing towards Wellbeing: narratives of diverse community members attending an inclusive singing group. Journal of Public Mental Health Volume 20, Issue4.