ShapeShifter Productions – open your mind to music

Shapeshifter Productions is a performing arts charity that launched in 2007.  Alison Jones is the artistic director and her idea was that this charity would create community engagement projects that are either arts or music led.  Alison is a violinist and so she leans towards the musical side of things.  Shapeshifter Productions did a lot of work in London and across the country, but focused on Walthamstow for a large part.  Alison was nominated as a ‘cultural star’ for her community work in helping Walthamstow become the first cultural borough of London.  Then Folkestone turned her head.  With the help of some friends, she moved down here, and a lot of her work is now focused in the town.  Folkelife met up with Alison to find out more:

“My thought has always been that people enjoy music.  So why not bring absolutely top class musicians into people’s lives to experience the wonder together?  I moved down to Folkestone in 2018 and just got settled when Covid started.  We managed to get funding to create videos to send out to care homes so that people could still experience music in that time of great isolation.  Then when things started to open up, it seemed that we needed to go and meet all these people that we hadn’t had the chance to up until then.”

Enjoying each other

“Bringing in high-quality singers or banjo players, or anything, is really great.  You lose that ego pretty quickly and our audience realise that these professional musicians are just human like us.  Then the amazing experience of participating together in a musical and/or artistic event happens which just builds self-esteem, health and well-being.  We were talking about all these words way before they became the buzz words they are today.”

As people get older they need more support; maybe people are feeling lost having retired, or lost a partner, and the arts is a really fantastic way to bring people together.  There are many experts who can bring children together and work with young people, but my expertise lies in working with older people.  They are a group I feel that’s been neglected in the past, and acknowledging them and working with them is what I really enjoy doing.”

Shapeshifter productions
Shapeshifter productions

the smiling session

“The signature project of the charity is The Smiling Sessions.  This is a participatory singing project for senior citizens who tend to be vulnerable, living in deprived areas and quite isolated. Particularly post Covid, we are seeing that there are still a large number of people who are not socialising for various reasons – anxiety being the main one.   So we try to combat loneliness through song.  My colleague and good friend Pete Baikie and I came up with this idea when we were volunteering at a local hospice.  People respond to song.  People just light up when given the opportunity to join in with songs they know and love.  So we looked into developing this into something we could take to various groups.

“We created a songbook, so if you don’t know all the lyrics, you can follow along.  It’s in big print to help people with poor sight and this was the thing that opened us up to charitable status in 2011.  We got National Lottery Funding and were up against people like Opera North and so on.  Then there was us, little old us!  We were on the TV, and showcasing how music and song benefit your well-being, and that got us noticed by other funders.”

sheltered housing

“We have developed our work over the years and gone into many different care homes.  But we’re really working on accessing sheltered housing.  If you are in a care home there are people around you and there are events on daily that you can join in with should you want to.  People living in sheltered housing are a few steps removed from that and can be incredibly isolated.  So we’re working with the council to build up connections around the sheltered housing in Folkestone.  

“Our funding comes from Arts Council England, and we’ve been lucky to receive funds from the Kent Community Foundation too.  The Roger De Haan Charitable Trust has also given us funds – they came along to one of our sessions and were blown away by what they saw.  It’s great when you see people’s reactions, when they experience what’s going on in the room with us.”

sing along

“There are three of us who lead these sessions.  I usually am playing my violin and do vocals, Pete Baikie leads on vocals and guitar and Neil Bob Herd plays guitar too.  Sometimes we’ll share the lead, but mainly Pete leads on vocals.  We’re running an event at The Green Room on May 16th at 3pm where Age UK and the Cheriton Community Network are going to be.  Anyone is welcome for a good old jolly sing song!  If it’s successful then we’d love to do it as a regular thing, so come along.

“This is Music in May in Folkestone where there are many musical events happening across the month. There’s so much going on in the town, and many of the local musicians help us out at Shapeshifters.  As part of the festival, I’m also running a ‘strung out’ session on the 25th May which is a violin workshop for adults.  I’ll be encouraging people to sign up for evening sessions so that hopefully we can start up an orchestra in the autumn.”

Shapeshifter productions
Strung out

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