Plymouth University and Plymouth Music Zone have been awarded more than £150,000 to explore the potential of music making to enhance the lives of people impacted by dementia, autism, strokes and other conditions which affect their communication.

The two organisations have received funding from the Arts Council Research Grants Programme for a two-year project, titled 'Beyond Words: The non-verbal/unspoken in inclusive music practice: implications for the Arts in a post-human world.'

It will see researchers from the University’s Institute of Education and practitioners from the Devonport-based charity working together to explore how people with limited verbal communication are helped by, and included in, music making.

As well as analysing the impact on individuals, the project – which starts in June – will also involve families and carers and other agencies such as social workers and teachers.

The results will be shared at an international conference – Privileging the Unspoken in Arts Practice for a Post-human world – to be held at the end of the research, which will also allow researchers and practitioners from across the Arts to explore how they can work with those who are non-verbal.

Jocey Quinn, Professor of Education and leader of the Learning Outside Formal Education research group at Plymouth University, said:

“We are absolutely delighted to be awarded this prestigious grant from the Arts Council Research Grants Programme in partnership with Plymouth Music Zone. We already have a strong bond with them and we see this award as recognition of the way we have built a growing relationship between cutting edge arts practice and cutting edge educational research. We have called the project Beyond Words and it is difficult for us too to express in words how excited we are at the prospect of this innovative and worthwhile research project.”

Plymouth Music Zone and Plymouth University first began their research work together last year when two independent evaluations of the charity’s work in residential homes and a domestic refuge went onto receive regional and national recognition for ‘outstanding excellent and innovative arts and health practice’. Awards included a national Special Commendation from the Royal Society for Public Health in their Arts and Health Awards 2014 given to only seven projects in the UK.

Plymouth Music Zone’s Executive Director, Debbie Geraghty, added:

“I am thrilled at the possibilities of what this research partnership with Plymouth University has the potential to do for others. Over the past few years at Plymouth Music Zone we’ve seen first-hand the powerful impact of using music to reach out and really connect with so many people affected by a whole range of health conditions or challenging circumstances that can so easily make them feel cut off from the world around them. This research programme is a tremendous opportunity to show the value of music acting as a potential lifeline for those who cannot or do not speak.”

The Research Grants Programme seeks to build collective knowledge and deepen understanding of the impact of arts and culture, and to promote greater collaboration and co-operation between the arts and cultural sector and research partners.

Phil Gibby, Area Director, South West, Arts Council England said:

“This is excellent news and we’re delighted for Plymouth Music Zone and Plymouth University, especially because the high level of interest in the fund from the sector meant we had to make some very difficult decisions. The studies will help us understand and demonstrate how the arts can make a real difference in people’s lives and hopefully reach out to those who often feel cut off from experiences the rest of us take for granted. I’m looking forward to hearing more as the project develops.”