Meet the singer recording lives with The Swan Song Project

Ben Slack, one of the latest Do-It Award Winners in our partnership with Leeds Community Foundation, has a unique and powerful venture that is making a huge difference to many families. 

Ben works one-on-one with people in later life to write unique songs together, with end of life in mind. These songs are then recorded, and a CD is created for them, and their loved ones, to keep. Participants say it has helped them communicate difficult things to their loved ones, make sense of their experience, and gain a great sense of pride through creating something that can be cherished for years to come.

Ben started the Swan Song Project in West Yorkshire, inspired by how his grandma always lit up at music, and at his singing.

This is Ben, in his own words:

“I’ve been obsessed with song writing for a long time, listening to my favourite albums over and over again until I knew them note for note and word for word. The way songs stick with us for years, the way their meaning seems to shift with time and their incredible ability to change our moods and emotions continues to fascinate me to this day.

I got into community arts work about 5 years ago and began running song writing groups and courses, writing songs with individuals and groups in a wide range of settings such as mental health facilities, prisons and various community organisations.

The idea for The Swan Song Project was born about 2 years ago. I was reflecting back on losing my grandma and when my uncle and I sang to her not long before she died. Although pretty much non-responsive at that point, she seemed to light up to the song, tapping her fingers to the tune. It’s still a very powerful memory for us and I thought how nice it would be if I had a recording of my gran singing with us or better still singing a song she had written herself. That really stuck with me and I thought I could help other people do this.

Surprisingly, nobody seemed to song-write with end of life. With support from local enthusiastic hospices and some funding, The Swan Song Project began May 2017. I mainly write songs one to one with patients, recording them and creating a CD for them to keep. The response has been overwhelming and the songs people write are just stunning. Participants have fed back how it has helped them communicate difficult things to their loved ones, make sense of their experience and gain a great sense of pride through creating something that can live on and be cherished for years to come. Some participants have chosen to share their song on the website www.swansongproject.co.uk. I feel very honoured to be able to be part of this.

I am really thrilled to receive this Do-It award to help me establish my skills as a social entrepreneur and build momentum in Leeds this year. I’ve been able to upgrade my shoddy equipment and improve my skills. I never saw myself running an organization and having the support of Leeds Community Foundation and UnLtd is a huge boost and fills me with excitement for the future of The Swan Song Project.”

UnLtd has been working in partnership with the Leeds Community Foundation to offers Awards to social entrepreneurs, delivering on the Solutions for an Ageing Society programme. With support from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, LCF has made 11 awards to social entrepreneurs in the Leeds and Bradford area.  It offered Do-It Awards of up to £5,000 to social entrepreneurs with sustainable ideas to help older people to live positive, independent lives in local communities.

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Ruth Coustick-Deal

UnLtd award winners all have fascinating stories about their ventures and why they do what they do. My role is to ensure these stories are told and seen by the world. I want to make sure all the teams at UnLtd communicate their work effectively, and that they have the best tools to do so. I have a background in political campaigning, spending the last seven years trying to improve human rights in the UK. In my spare time I co-host and produce a podcast about technology and its impact on society, and enjoy drawing and making art

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