BIG Ian Donaghy has launched The Big Christmas Care Singalong for care homes across the country and beyond.
In any other year, the York fundraiser, musician, public speaker and dementia campaigner would have been leading a team of volunteers giving a family Christmas Day to older people living alone in the city with his Xmas Presence gathering, as they have for the past five years.
“Unfortunately, as with almost everything this year, it’s had to be cancelled because of Covid-19,” says Ian, who instead has created a “Play as Live online event to bring everyone together to sing with one voice with The Big Christmas Care Singalong”.
After hatching his plan to unite the world of care this Christmas with The Big Christmas Care Singalong, Ian took over a warehouse with the help of Mark Parker, of AV Matrix.
“Socially distanced with great care and a green screen, one by one, singers and musicians were invited to perform carols and other Christmas mainstays,” says Ian, who conscripted the talents of Jess Steel, Graham Hodge, Jessa Liversidge and Samantha Holden (who has performed with Michael Bublé), accompanied by the omnipresent George Hall on piano.
Saxophone player to the stars Snake Davis – his CV spans Amy Winehouse, Take That, Paul McCartney, The Eurythmics and George Michael – recorded a haunting solo sax version of Silent Night. London session singer and pianist Sam Tanner, who has played with members of The Rolling Stones, The Who and Rod Stewart, performed a reggae version of White Christmas.
Expect a setlist ranging from the carols Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, Away In A Manger and In The Bleak Midwinter to a soulful version of Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer and a raucous rendition of The Twelve Days Of Christmas, bringing together people from all over the world.
“The performers are superb and the whole thing has a warmth to it that’s needed to lift this year,” says Ian. “A bespoke version of the Christmas Care Singalong created for Nottingham and care homes in the Midlands was broadcast on Tuesday, and afterwards they said: ‘It gave us a real lift to see some of our families involved on the screen sending messages and telling us about their Christmas memories’.
“In fact, the Singalong has already been seen by thousands of care homes all over the world with feedback like ‘Christmas ISN’T cancelled’, from Sam Barrington, an award-winning care consultant from Scarborough, and ‘the perfect gift to us this Christmas – thank you for bringing the UK and Australia together’, from Alana Parker in Sydney.”
Ian is delighted that people from all over the world have sent in videos of their Christmas memories and of them singing their festive favourites. “Let’s just say there’s a range of quality but we have included everyone. We have people with learning difficulties and dementia singing alongside the people who support them,” he says.
Thousands of care homes will be playing the Christmas Singalong on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Hospitals and hospices are planning to make an event of it too.
For example, HC-One, the UK’s largest care provider, is embracing it in their 320 care homes. “Watching it on Tuesday, we laughed, cried and sang together – and this beautiful event features so many of our residents having fun,” says Roberta Roccella, HC-One’s head of Quality of Life.
“This is a perfect event to bring everyone together. This has been the toughest year ever in care. Throughout the pandemic, Ian was asked to create the national film campaign for Health Education England to recruit the next generation of nurses into social care, so he saw the huge sacrifices people were making for those they cared for in the pandemic.”
During lockdown, when the venues where he usually does his public speaking were turned into Nightingale hospitals, Ian wrote and published a book, A Pocketful of Kindness, to celebrate the power of community and connection.
Now comes The Big Christmas Care Singalong. “This free online event has been universally welcomed by care homes, supported living, hospitals and hospices, both in the UK and Australia,” says Ian. “The joy of it is that if someone is isolated in their own room, they can have their very own private Christmas concert. Christmas can come to them.
“The Singalong can also be accessed in any home at www.thebigchristmassingalong.com, so you too can enjoy it and get an insight into the year people have had in care. In a year where very few television programmes are being made, it will be a welcome change from seeing celebrities on web cams or Del Boy as Batman yet again.”
The Big Christmas Care Singalong is going international in a year when embracing technology has been so vital to communication. “Alana Parker and Nick Wynn in Australia have got involved to spread the word far and wide beyond our shores,” says Ian. “Technology has come so far in the last year. Everyone is far more tech savvy.”
The online event also incorporates a Jackanory-style story narrated by the Bard of Barnsley, Ian McMillan, with illustrations by Private Eye cartoonist Tony Husband. Television presenter Angela Rippon makes a surprise appearance too.
“Expect something that is somewhere between a Christmas concert, You’ve Been Framed and Gogglebox,” says Ian. “But we hope it will warm people’s hearts and show those who work in our care homes, hospitals and hospices just how invaluable they are.”
Summing up his wishes beyond the impact of The Big Christmas Care Singalong in Covid-19 2020, Ian says: “The vaccine has given us a light at the end of the tunnel but we are still in the tunnel! Despite some people’s wreckless behaviour and lack of consideration for others, we hope that the score at the end of this year will read Covid 19 Kindness 20.”