In 2019, Vicky starred in a two-part BBC documentary Our dementia choirwho explored the vital link between music and dementia.
Around 850,000 people in the UK live with some form of dementia, with many more indirectly affected. Although progress is being made, a cure is unlikely to come fast enough to help these people – and so finding the best way to live with dementia is essential.
The choir took part in a groundbreaking scientific study to measure their emotional and physical responses to singing over three months of regular sessions, culminating in a live performance in a crowded royal concert hall.
Vicky had been inspired to join the BBC documentary after her Nanna Iris died of vascular dementia four years earlier. She had helped take care of herself and had seen with her own eyes how music helped calm her down.
“It was a real shock to me, when we received the death certificate, to see that she had died of vascular dementia. It was the first time I realized that one could die of dementia , it sounds like a silly thing to say but it’s such a confusing disease.When it comes into your world, you start to learn about it.
“When we got to the end of filming Our dementia choir, it became very obvious that I was never going to turn around and say, well, thank you for exposing your lives and being so honest, and then letting them go and moving on. It was the right thing to do, and with lots of support from the media, many people and Karen who now runs the charity, it kept us going.
“I will never cease to be amazed and proud of this brilliant group of people,” said Angela, leader of the choir. “They take every challenge with both hands and they never disappoint.”
At a special performance at Nottingham’s City Hospital’s Beeston Ward Garden, organized and funded by Nottingham Hospitals Charity, Vicky joined choir members old and new for a fun gig in the sunshine.
“We have a lot of amazing new members, unfortunately we have lost members which is heartbreaking and yet inevitable,” Vicky said. “There is a lot of ambition for Our Dementia Choir, and there are a lot of people who don’t live in the city who would like to be a part of it and I would love nothing more than it to be available for everyone – the music therapy should be available to absolutely everyone who receives a diagnosis.
“We need more research more than ever, more people, more funding, more everything, we are so behind and we have so much to do. Events like this, bringing together two charities, are really important to me, because you don’t know what will come of it.
“There is a stigma there and a pride there, it is very difficult for people to go to the doctor and ask for help knowing that they could receive this diagnosis.
“We need to break this stigma; there is so much research and help we need from the government. It’s hopeless now, because we’re living longer and people are being diagnosed much younger.
“Our dementia choir is a shining example of how well we can live with dementia, how long people live with it. We can’t give people a diagnosis and then say, there you go, fight your way through for as long as you can.
“The choir is an inspiring group of people who show that there are ways to live well. It’s not just music, it’s a community now and they rely on each other a lot, and I’m very proud that we’ve been going on for so long.
The past few years have been busy, but our chorus of dementia isn’t slowing down; it registered as a charity nearly a year ago and is now in the capable hands of Karen Bonser, whose husband Mick was in the very first show, having been diagnosed with dementia at 51 years, and continues to sing in the choir.
“A charity is a very complicated thing to do, but thanks to people like Karen and the support we have around us, we’ve moved mountains,” Vicky said. “Hopefully over the next 12 months we stay in a very stable state and maintain our funding as best we can – that’s the most important thing.
“I want everyone to have access to singing therapy. Unfortunately, I don’t see that being realized in the next 12 months. But I see that it is achieved.
So what would Iris of Our Dementia Choir have thought?
“My Nanna loved a lot of music, Gene Pitney was one of her favourites. She was a very lively, bright, bubbly woman and she would have loved that.
“They’re all dripping red and it was her favorite color – that’s why we have red. She left a real legacy and I’m really proud of her.
For a preview of the performance, please watch here: Vicky McClure and Our Dementia Choir perform at Nottingham City Hospital for Dementia Action Week – YouTube
To learn more about the choir, to join or to donate, please visit: Home | Our dementia choir