SIXTY nine-year-old John Reed greets me with a big warm smile. It soon becomes apparent this is his default setting. He’s most definitely a cheery chappie. Any why not – he really enjoys his life.
The Kidderminster husband, dad and granddad is an energy surveyor working for estate agents and he also drafts floor plans of properties about to go on the market. He tells me if you want to sell your house these days you need an energy performance certificate so that prospective buyers know its energy efficiency.
Originally from London, he’s had a lot of jobs in his time including gas fitter, trainer and salesman for commercial kitchen equipment. But what he likes most is talking to people and that’s probably one of the main reasons he thoroughly enjoys his latest venture – a social enterprise aiming to engage and stimulate older people living in care homes.
And he happily admits his inspiration in life is his mum, who died two years ago aged 93.
He said: “My mum was 93 when she died and I did the eulogy at her funeral. When I was preparing it I realised what a lot of good things she had done in her life.
“I thought that when I die, if my sons can say of me what I have said about my mum, it will be alright. It inspired me to look at what I could do to give something to people and the community.”
He explained that his mum was the youngest of six children and her eldest sister had a Down’s Syndrome child.
“Mum formed a housewives club to get a social life and raise funds for the mentally handicapped – as they used to be called. Every year she used to organise trips for them. She did it for about 20 years. She was also a school dinner lady.
“After she died, it brought it all back to me and it made me think. I am so proud of my mum. She was great.”
So last year, John decided he wanted to set up a social enterprise with a view to helping disadvantaged young people. He had an idea of helping the young people to use helium balloons with cameras to take aerial photos.
He applied for a scholarship from the School of Social Enterprise and was invited to pitch his idea to a panel from the school.
He said it was a bit like the Dragons’ Den TV programme but there were nine Dragons. John, who enjoys giving presentations, decided to try an unusual approach by pretending to be a radio presenter, announcing the launch of his social enterprise.
It made the Dragons laugh and before he knew it, they had offered him a scholarship. The helium balloon idea failed to take off, but undeterred John turned his attentions to elderly people living in care homes and their feelings of isolation and loneliness. He said these issues apply to both those with dementia and those without.
John went along to a local care home he knew of through a friend and spoke to some of the residents about his mum and her life, which went down really well.
“I told her story to the residents of a care home and it brought back memories for the people living there. The lady running it said it was well received but if it was set to music it would be even better,” said John.
So he went home and gave it a bit of thought before returning to do another presentation on the theme of the Beatles LP Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which was release 50 years ago. He calls his sessions “Music to Their Ears”.
“I took the theme of Sg Pepper’s lonely hearts club band and took tracks from the record in 1967 and wove the stories of that era around it. People just loved it. It was a wonderful thing to see.”
John now goes to the home every two weeks with another music themed presentation, which helps the resident recall their past experiences and take part. He has even had some of the carers up dancing, to the delight of the residents.
“I do stories to music from Vera Lynn and Gracie Field, and from the film Oliver. It gets them talking and engaging in conversation. They sometimes sing along too. They enjoy it and I have enjoyed it as well.”
He started off doing just six sessions but they have proved so popular he has extended the programme to 12 with themes focusing on Billy Cotton, George Formby and Russ Conway – to name but a few. He admits each programme is loosely planned and develops as each afternoon goes on.
John said he loves music but can’t play an instrument or sing very well, loves talking to people and loves to see the care home residents enjoying what he has to offer.
“The pleasure I get from it is great. It is so different from anything else I have ever done. I love the amateur dramatic bit and that what I am doing is giving pleasure to other people.”
He is hoping to offer his sessions to other care homes and may be even take it into prisons in future where elderly inmates can take part. He added that the sessions are offered free initially – as a taster – and then can be delivered as a series of six or 12 workshops.
“Music to Their Ears can focus on a variety of artists, musical, different genres and sometimes even includes trips down memory lane so that people can relate the story to their own early years. This tends to help overcome or reduce memory loss problems so common in this age group,” he said.
“A series of topics is agreed with the care home having complete freedom to choose what is best for their residents. Generally I find that topics dating from 1940 until 1970 are the favourites, but it could be almost anything – it is entirely their choice.”
Although this enterprise to help tackle isolation and loneliness among care home residents appears to be taking off, he said his mum is always there in the background. “She is my driving force,” he said.