Living Voices

Living Voices

Sharing poetry and story aloud can:

  • Spark engagement, enjoyment and conversation.
  • Trigger long-cherished memories and inspire creativity
  • Benefit wellbeing
  • Build new and rewarding social connections

Read about Living Voices our partnership with the Scottish Storytelling Centre working with older people and care staff across Scotland using poetry, story and song.

Living Voices - poetry, story and song across Scotland

Living Voices is a national programme developed by the Scottish Poetry Library and the Scottish Storytelling Centre.  It offers older people, usually in care homes, activities that use a mix of story, song and poetry to prompt conversation, reminiscence and creative response.  

From 2012-2014 the Living Voices model was piloted and evaluated across 18 months of delivery in 18 venues in South Ayrshire, Perth and Kinross and Aberdeen City.  Professional participatory arts facilitators led the Living Voices sessions for residents of care homes. Evaluation demonstrated that Living Voices enables older people to engage with the arts and has a number of benefits including the strengthening of social bonds and relationships.   

After a successful pilot we entered a further promising year of development in 2015. Our facilitators led sessions in care homes and community contexts, and also offered learning and development opportunities to activities co-ordinators and care staff to promote skills and confidence in using poetry, story and song even in the absence of professional facilitators. 

Living Voices Project Evaluation 

During the pilot programme, poets, storytellers and musicians ran regular interactive sessions with care home residents.  These sessions were supported by a volunteer.

The artist and volunteer, residents and staff would come together each month to share stories, poetry and song - Living Voices is not about performance to passive listeners; its about sharing, participation and interaction.  

The programme was externally evaluated to measure the impact and benefits for residents, staff, artists and volunteers.  It showed that the Living Voices session model

  • creates a space where residents and staff can engage with each other in new ways in a creative and engaging environment.
  • supports wellbeing and quality of life - providing access to meaningful activities focussed on the arts and supporting person-centred care.
  • supports staff in developing new skills and ideas for activity.

The evaluation also explored potential for future development of Living Voices. We are pleased to share evaluation reporting:

Evaluation documents are available in large print on request.

Living Voices Resources and Tools

If you are working with Living Voices you can download resource packs, handbooks and tools on our resources page.  If you are new to Living Voices look at our sample resource packs, below and consider working with us:

Download Family Resource Pack

Download Days Out and Holidays Resource Pack

"I find this of terrific value...It's very good, stimulating to be learning new things when you get to this age!" Care Home Resident

"I thoroughly enjoy the sessions myself, and to see the clients enjoy it with the chatter, smiling faces, laughter and joining in the singing makes you feel warm inside because after all it's for them that this is for." Care Home Activity Coordinator

"The positive effect is not just tangible in the time the session is on but also beforehand when we talk about past sessions and refresh their memory with our scrapbook, and also long after the session in dinner table discussions and overall positive mood." Care Home Staff Member

Find out more about Living Voices

We would be delighted to hear from anyone who is interested in the programme and might like to find out more.

If you work in any area of health and social care, or a related area, and are interested in developing Living Voices in your area, please get in touch with us.

For care homes and other community settings, the first steps would often involve arranging a Living Voices ‘taster’ session led by one of the facilitators, so that your care home has a chance to experience and observe a session and get a feel for how it works.  It is also possible to book a series of facilitator-led sessions, either with or without additional training for care staff and activities co-ordinators.

If you would like to find out more about Living Voices, please phone us on 0131 557 2876 and ask to speak to the Living Voices Project Co-ordinator; or email If you're interested in sessions or training in your setting, we'd be glad to let you know more about how it all works, and discuss any costs involved (this varies depending on whether Living Voices is in a fully-funded phase or not). 

Who are the Living Voices Facilitators?

They are professional artists: storytellers, poets, musicians, performers. All are skilled in participatory arts and regularly work with people in care homes, schools, hospitals, libraries and other community settings. They also create and teach specialised programmes for care staff and activities co-ordinators so that the benefits of Living Voices can continue in a care home independently of the facilitator. Each facilitator draws on their own personality and background to invite and encourage sharing of memories and stories during Living Voices sessions, which helps to deepen social engagement and human connection among both care home residents, and staff.

What other people are saying about Living Voices

“I enthusiastically commend the work of Living Voices. Poetry, story and song can all help people with dementia to access memories, words and a sense of their own identity. For many years I observed the same effect on my own mother’s dementia.  By singing old songs and familiar tunes with her, my family was able to keep bringing her back to a sense of herself. It’s something I have observed over and over in my work for the charity Playlist for Life. The beneficial effects of music are backed up by a growing body of international research.” Sally Magnusson, broadcaster, author of Where Memories Go: Why dementia changes everything (Two Roads, February 2014), and founder of Playlist for Life

"Absolutely brilliant project that values individuality, creativity and connectedness." Susanna Brook, Wellbeing team for older people, Aberdeen City Council

"RGCP Scotland is very happy to endorse Living Voices.  Using storytelling, poetry and song to engage with groups of older people, some with dementia, is a wonderful idea.  The evaluation and case studies show that it has positive effects on the mood and contentment of many individuals, including reducing agitation, which will improve their quality of life.  Further studies could examine whether medication could be reduced as a result.

There are benefits for carers and staff as well in helping them see residents of care homes as individuals who can make connections with others through responding to stories, poetry and song.  This project acknowledges their own assets and their essential humanity.  We would like to see this programme extended and made available in care homes and settings across Scotland."  John Gilles, Chair of the Royal College of GPs Scotland

IRISS (The Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services) recently featured Living Voices as a case study on their Creative Quarter website, where you can read their report and view short films about Living Voices.

Image credits:

Project photos (hands with wedding photograph and table with teapot) provided by storyteller Claire Hewitt.

All other images c. Nigel Lumsden Photography