This festive season, Opera North is inviting people to give the gift of music and opera to vulnerable and isolated residents in its home city of Leeds through its All Together Now Christmas Campaign.
Removing the obstacles that might prevent people from accessing live performance has been key to Opera North’s work in the community since it launched its Encore Scheme for groups and Bravo Scheme for individuals five years ago. To assess its effect on people’s lives, we chatted to Making Space, a befriending and peer support service which works to reduce social isolation, improve confidence and motivation, and support those with mental health issues to get out and about in the community. Making Space was one of Opera North’s Community Partners in 2015-16 and is now a member of the Encore Scheme, which currently numbers over 100 groups in the city.
One of those who decided to give opera a go for the first time as a result of Opera North’s scheme was a participant who developed a passion for classical music when he bought a second-hand car tuned to Classic FM. By the time he had worked out how to re-tune it, he was a convert:
“I have liked classical music for some time, but I had only been to two performances. I felt that opera wasn’t for me, that it was upper class. But it isn’t. It is for everybody.”
Being part of the scheme means that the members get offered tickets to the opera at Leeds Grand Theatre and events in the Howard Assembly Room, as well as being given the chance to host taster performances at their own venues. For many of those who take advantage of these opportunities, an operatic performance is a form of escapism, offering a few hours away from day-to-day concerns:
“I get lost in the performance. It is all so magical that I am transported somewhere else. We often say that you should leave your problems on those steps. You can pick them up on the way out.”
In talking to the participants, it was also clear that coming to the theatre and watching opera helped many people overcome social isolation, anxiety and agoraphobia:
“When I went to see opera live, I absolutely loved it. I am absolutely besotted with opera. It helps with my agoraphobia because now I have somewhere I really want to go.”
One thing we were keen to find out was whether attending the opera was a short-lived pleasure or whether its effect was longer lasting for the attendees:
“As you come out, you feel elated. You have escaped from all the horrible things going on in life. Opera lifts you up for a while. It is a lovely feeling. It helps to know you can go again and have the same feeling.”
For those who run the groups, opera may not be the obvious choice for their attendees but for many of the people at Making Space it has become a lifeline. One of the organisers summed up its impact:
“Opera is very important to our group. It brings people together and gives them something to focus on. They look forward to it for weeks before and then talk about it for weeks after. They are so effervescent when they come out of a show …. [it] brings people out of their shell. It directly reduces social isolation.”
Support for the All Together Now campaign will help our Community Partnerships projects to continue changing the lives of people whose circumstances currently prevent them from engaging with the arts.
Thank you to Annabel Jackson Associates Ltd for carrying out the evaluation for the Making Space case study.