Nonagenarian Tom and the gang overcome the lockdown blues with weekly singalongs

A 94-year-old retired mechanic is re-tuning his voice after joining stress-busting, health-boosting singalong group.

Tom Parry is a regular at the sessions that were launched at St Crwst’s Church in Llanrwst to help housing association tenants get used to mixing again following pandemic lockdowns.

They proved such a success, with between 15 and 20 people often turning up, that it was decided to continue them long term.

The tuneful foot-tapping get togethers are warmly welcomed by locals who appreciate the relaxed format, opportunity to meet up, exercise their vocal chords and, if they want to, have a dance.

Tom, who walks to the church, is oldest among the regular members of the group and loves the chance to trip the light fantastic to the lively strains of “Mambo Italiano”.

He said: “It’s a great place, a really good idea.”

The sessions are organised by Cartrefi Conwy housing association and led by Allison Hughes, who likes to keep the mood casual and upbeat.

She said: “There are no strict rules, it’s all about enjoyment. People can come along even if they are a little shy about singing. They are welcome to just sit and listen or simply tap their feet to the music.”

Allison, who is Cartrefi Conwy’s Give Where You Live (GWYL) Co-ordinator, said the sessions are usually held on a Friday once a month which is especially good for lifting the spirits in time for the start of a weekend.

She said: “If anyone has had a bad week or is just feeling a little sluggish then coming along here and joining in with us is the perfect remedy to that.

“I can personally recommend it. Even if I don’t really feel like singing when I arrive, by the time the session is ended I’m always in a brighter mood, it’s such a welcoming and vibrant environment.

“Sometimes people who are just visiting this lovely, restored church see us singing and join in impromptu. There are no barriers to participating.”

Friends since childhood Helen Roberts and Kay Lewis, now in their seventies, also relish the chance to socialise, sing and enjoy tea and cake during a break after jiving to Connie Francis number “Stupid Cupid”.

Cartrefi Conwy tenant Helen, 75, said: “We didn’t really know what to expect when the idea for a ‘singalong’ was suggested but we decided to come down and see.

“To be honest it has been fantastic, a great opportunity to meet up with people again after the hardships of the pandemic. We sing a few songs, but we also get to chat and have a good laugh. It’s just great.”

Pat Williams, who is also a tenant of Cartrefi Conwy, agreed.

She said: “For me it’s been quite hard and even a bit scary getting used to going out again after all those months shielding during lockdown.

“When it came to the point where all the social distancing restrictions were relaxed, I was still very wary about going out and mixing with people again.

“But coming here, seeing friendly faces in such a safe, comfortable environment has helped me get back to normal.

“The musical element to it is so good because we all feel uplifted singing along together. There’s no competitiveness, it’s just good fun.”

Cartrefi Conwy Older Persons Engagement Co-ordinator Nerys Veldhuizen, who often helps Allison in leading the singalong said it was positive proof of how music can be so therapeutic.

She said: “It’s astonishing how coming here and having a good sing can really boost your mood. It’s not a choir, none of us are great singers, but when we give it our all together, we somehow manage to sound OK.”

Following on from the success of the sessions Nerys did some research into music as therapy and a means of lifting the spirits.

She said: “Science has shown that it really works, especially when people get together like we do to enjoy the music as a social experience. I

“It’s been proved that singing strengthens the immune system, it improves posture, lowers stress levels, boosts mental alertness and memory powers, increases confidence and it creates a sense of community. That’s exactly what Allison and all our participants have created here in St Crwst’s.”

Unlike with a choir there are no formal songs to sing or rehearsals. Instead, the participants sing along to music downloaded from a phone and played through a speaker.

Nerys said: “We also print out the words to songs so people have them to hand if they want. But if they like something we don’t have the words to we can often play it anyway.

“When we first started Allison and I chose some music which we thought older generations among our tenants might like, but we quickly found out that their tastes were far more modern than the music we chose. They wanted uplifting popular songs.”

Top of the pops are arm-waving numbers like “Sweet Caroline”, “Is this the Way to Amarillo”, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”, “Sailing”, and “Delilah”.

Nerys laughed: “One thing’s for sure, we all love a bit of ABBA.”

Friends Piet Botes and Keith Roberts are fans of Wales’s own Tom Jones.

Piet is originally from Durban, South Africa, but has lived in the UK 44 years. He said the sing-a-longs remind him of similar social get togethers when he was a boy singing with friends and neighbours at his home town in South Africa.

He said: “One of my favourites is the Tom Jones classic Green Green Grass of Home, but it always gets me quite emotional, so we have to follow it up with something upbeat like Delilah.”

Anyone interested in joining in the sessions can find out more information from the Cartrefi Conwy customer service helpline on 03001240040.

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