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Tenovus Cancer Care

Case Study: Choirs for those affected by cancer

Tenovus cancer care is a national cancer charity which aims to help prevent, treat and find a cure for Cancer. They do this by offering support, advice and treatment to cancer patients and their loved ones. They also promote healthy lifestyles and fund cancer research to find new ways to prevent it, diagnose it, and treat it. 

The idea

The initial idea for the choir came from a senior member of staff who thought that singing in a choir could help people with lung cancer through expanded breathing exercises as well as combatting the isolation and loneliness experienced by many cancer patients.

There was no scientific evidence for the benefits of singing but Tenovus wanted to try something new and explore the impact of non-medical interventions for people experiencing severe medical issues. As the idea progressed and gained in popularity the choirs evolved into a vehicle to improve wellbeing for those experiencing and not experiencing cancer.

What happened?

In 2010 Tenovus Cancer Care established its first “Sing with Us” choir based in Pontypridd, for anyone affected by cancer. Professional musicians lead rehearsals that aimed to be uplifting, fun and supportive. The choirs started small, with numbers in single figures. Within a matter of months the membership had grown to over 100 people and have continued to grow. 

Tenovus undertook an impact evaluation of their choirs with Cardiff University, the Royal College of Music and Imperial College London. These studies have shown that an hour’s choir rehearsal reduces members’ anxiety and depression, and has a positive impact on biological markers related to stress, immune function and inflammatory response. This could put people affected by cancer in a better position to receive treatment and maintain remission.

Insights

  • Trialling an idea without an existing evidence base can have significant unintended positive impacts.

  • Charities are often best at taking risks with their service provision due to their culture and operational flexibility.

  • It is impossible to know what all the impacts of innovations will be, and some of the most significant impacts only emerge as a project progresses.

  • Reliable independent evidence of project impact can play a major role in scaling up an innovation.

What’s next?

Tenovus are now working with the National Lottery to expand their community engagement and choir activities in England. They have also picked up a number of choirs in England which were failing under other organisations. 

Tenovus have also had international enquiries about the work from the United States and Latin America and are exploring the opportunities of expanding their choir model across the globe.