The Singing Clinic – Building a Singing for Health Programme in partnership with Social Prescribing

Practice badge.png
Research badge.png

Emily Foulkes shares her experiences of developing Singing for Health work linked to Social Prescribing in Cornwall


I am the Director of Cymaz Music, a music for well-being charity based in Cornwall. Set up in 2001, the organisation has supported and delivered a wide range of inclusive music programmes to some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups. Our work crosses community, education and health settings.

In recent years, our commitment to Singing for Health has grown from my own personal interest, my research and engagement in training. I started with Singing for Lung Health, undertaking training with Phoene Cave via the British Lung Foundation. With funding from the BLF, I was able to start a group for people with respiratory conditions.

I immediately sought out the relevant healthcare professionals who would be able to refer patients to the programme. At this time, St Austell Healthcare was one of the first Social Prescribing pilots in England. We formed a positive relationship and it felt that Hayley Burgoyne, the only Link Worker involved at that time, understood and supported our work from the start. She even attended the first session, after helping to secure a venue and participants. It was clear from the start that obtaining funding via Social Prescribing was going to be pretty impossible to secure. However, in kind support was very forthcoming and appreciated. 

We held an event in the GP surgery and one of the partners at the surgery became really interested when he heard from the patients themselves about the impact of the programme. Ie. They were using inhalers less. This led to the invitation to deliver the sessions at the surgery itself. This saved us venue costs, but also firmly rooted the programme within a health setting, making it visible and recognised. In 2019, Dr Stuart Smith said; ‘We have been running our social prescribing project in St Austell for 4 years. Singing for Lung Health has been an extremely popular offering for our patients with Respiratory Conditions. We have seen patients’ breathing and confidence improved. Many have been able to reduce and stop inhalers. The group is inclusive and welcoming to all. When the group has been held in the surgery it has given everyone a lift to hear their music gently flowing through the corridors. I would love to scale and spread this work to other patient groups and other surgeries.’

'We have seen patients’ breathing and confidence improved. Many have been able to reduce and stop inhalers'

In the meantime, I began PGcert studies with Voice Workshop Ltd, developing a wider interest in Singing for Health. My research led to the piloting of a Singing for Pain Management programme. I presented this research at the first Voice Geek Conference and was subsequently invited to develop this work further in a residency at Snape Maltings. I took the idea and the research to the NHS and secured funding and support from our local Hospital Trust. It is my firm belief that the research and evidence presented played a significant role in this success.

My work and dedication to Singing for Health led to the offer of a full bursary from Voice Workshop to continue my studies as a practitioner researcher under the MA programme. This opportunity enabled me to further and deepen my research. My research specialisms moved into Mental Health and Trauma, along with continuing studies in Chronic Pain and Multiple Sclerosis.

In 2020, armed with evidence and research, we secured funding from the National Lottery to build the Singing Clinic programme, in partnership with Social Prescribing.

With the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic, we had to review the programme and adjust it to be delivered online. Like for the whole of the singing community, this was a significant change and one which required a huge learning curve. Our first session took almost the whole session for participants to sign in to zoom. We had to feel our way with it and together with participants agreed a way to ‘be’ together in the online space. We created a zoom protocol document, which is shared with all new participants into the programme.

We have delivered specialist sessions for people with lung conditions, for those with Fibromyalgia and a group for people experiencing anxiety and/or depression. Participants, on the whole, have been referred from St Austell Healthcare. There is now a team of Link Workers and Hayley is Head of Social Prescribing for the St Austell area. The Link Workers support the programme by sending letters and text messages to relevant patients and also refer from their one to ones with patients. Link Workers have attended sessions and we have delivered taster sessions at the surgery for patient groups. I believe that this partnership and high level of awareness of our programme has led to really successful referring.

As sessions are still taking place online, we are starting to connect with Link Workers across the county, offering places to their patients.

Participants are sent a welcome pack and will attend either a one to one introduction Zoom session or a group taster session. This provides an opportunity to understand what the programme entails before they sign up to an 8 week course. We run 8 week programmes and a regular weekly Singing for Lung Health group.

We have another year of funding, to run a combination of 8 week courses and regular sessions and will soon be on the search for funding to maintain and sustain the work.

It has been a challenge with Covid-19 and although we may not have had the reach we might have had in face-to-face sessions, we have engaged people who told us that they wouldn’t have attended if it was in person. We believe that a mix of online and in person sessions will be our model in the future. Breaking down barriers to engagement is important to us, so maintaining an online element will be a feature. It also means we can widen our geographical reach.


  • Arm yourself with research and evidence and have a clear plan for collecting your own evidence of impact – seek advice from others in this, as you may find similar projects and could share ideas for what data to collect. Research and evidence may be what sets you apart from others who are seeking ways in to Social Prescribing.

  • Stories and individual case studies are compelling – so ask participants to be advocates. Get stories into local press and secure slots on local radio.

  • Make Link Workers aware of your work and persevere – you just need one person to take an active interest. Invite them to attend sessions, so they know what you are offering.​

Link to an article about the Mental Health group in the Singing Clinic

England’s NHS Ten Year Plan

What is Social Prescribing

National Academy for Social Prescribing

Social Prescribing Network

Photo leading Kana!.jpg
  • Although there may not be funding available via Social Prescribing, they may be able to offer in kind support, like sending letters to patients, or offering a space for activities – don’t be afraid to ask!

  • It’s hard work and a constant battle for funding to sustain activity. Seek funding from a range of places, from small pots to larger grants. You will find that participants will want to help with this because they want it to continue.

  • If you are a freelancer, working independently, it might be a good idea to link up with a local organisation which shares your ethos. Contact your Voluntary Sector Forum if you need help with this. This would be especially true if you are having difficulties in contacting Social Prescribers. They have large case-loads of patients and probably have lots of voluntary sector organisations knocking on the door.

  • Link Workers may not always be located within GP surgeries. They may be housed in voluntary sector organisations. They may also not be called Link Workers! Other names include; Community Navigator or Well-being Facilitator.