Beating Hearts of Lismore: Changing lives one song at a time

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Beating Hearts of Lismore, a community group founded in May this year to support social connection, mental wellbeing and cognition for older people, has been named winner of the September round of Greater Bank’s #GreaterNorthernRivers Community Funding Program.

A free weekly event held at Lismore Heights Sports, Recreation and Community Club, Beating Hearts of Lismore is an opportunity for the community to come together and enjoy the healing power of music.

The program aims to reach older people who may be experiencing social isolation, people with age-related conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and dementia, and their carers.

The group was founded by local geriatrician Rachel Jones, who recognised the need within Lismore to support older adults with complex health and social needs.

“We sing, we move, we have morning tea and it’s all free for the community,” said Rachel.

“We do what we call ‘chair dancing’ – for a song like ‘Home Among the Gumtrees’, people sit or stand up and perform the actions.  These movements have a myriad of health benefits, including falls prevention by improving flexibility, strength and balance.

“The mental health benefits are every bit as prevalent and we’ve seen reduced rates of social isolation, increased connectedness, lower rates of depressed mood, and improved behaviours in regard to complex dementia.

“There are some amazing friendships forming – everyone knows everyone, so if someone doesn’t turn up, we ring them and do a welfare check.

“These are benefits that go beyond the program. If there was another flood, the people in the group would be among the most vulnerable and we would know to check in on them.”

Volunteers make the heart beat

Greater Northern Rivers Regional Sales Manager, Scott McCluskey, said Beating Hearts of Lismore is evidence of the strength of the community.

“Beating Hearts of Lismore hasn’t even been going for six months and already they have had a massive impact, thanks largely to the efforts of the volunteers who turn up every week,” Scott said.

“These people not only give their time, they also bring along delicious, home-cooked morning tea to ensure the members of the group get a great feed.

“Music, movement, mates and morning tea – they’re the basics of life but they make all the difference in the world.

“So to the volunteers who make this group possible, we say a big and heartfelt thank you!”

Rachel also gave a shout out to the group’s selfless volunteers.

“When we were starting out, I put up a post on Facebook to see if anyone wanted to volunteer. The response was overwhelming,” she said.

“We have such an amazing volunteer group, at least 15 people, who are kind, dedicated and talented. They know all the songs, from ‘Dancing Queen’ to ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’!”

A growing need in the Northern Rivers

Beating Hearts of Lismore is not the first of its kind in the region, the inspiration coming from a similar organisation in Grafton – to which Rachel has a particularly close connection.

“The ‘Forget Me Nots’ was formed by my mother and her friend in 2018,” Rachel said.

“Seeing how successful the Grafton group was, it was inspiring. In the wake of the floods and COVID-19 lockdowns, events which had a dramatic impact on our older community, it was obvious there was a need for a similar program here.

“There are dementia-specific choirs around Australia – ours is more of a singalong than a choir – and they are emerging because music therapy has huge benefits for older people.

“We can see there’s a growing need for this and ideally we will see similar groups start up in nearby towns.

“We have people travelling from Kyogle, Evans Head, Ballina, Casino – it would be great to have something closer to them to reduce the travel.”

“We’ve got Dad back”

While the Beating Hearts of Lismore runs on volunteers, Rachel said the $2,000 they have won by taking out the September round of Greater Bank’s #GreaterNorthernRivers Community Funding Program will go a long way.

“We want to thank Greater Bank for this funding, which really helps with the longevity of the program,” she said.

“We have costs – from basic administrative needs such as folders, stationery and nametags, through to ways we want to invest in the program to make it even more impactful, such as purchasing more microphones and more speakers.

“We’d also love to provide the occasional donation or contribution otherwise to the Lismore Heights Sports, Recreation and Community Club, who are so generous in not only giving us a safe space to hold our weekly get-togethers, they also provide tea and coffee, and even treats from time to time!”

The real value from the program, however, is the amazing way it is changing lives.

“We have feedback forms and one daughter wrote, ‘We’ve got Dad back’,” Rachel said.

“It was so powerful and so motivating to read that.”

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