Linburn Centre Choir combats loneliness, uniting veterans with sight loss in new friendships

Press Release | 10/12/2018

Carol rehearsals are bringing a choir of veterans with visual impairments together this festive period – a time when loneliness and social isolation can hit hardest for people with sight loss.

Since starting up in 2016, the Linburn Choir, who meet every Friday at Scottish War Blinded’s Linburn Centre in West Lothian, have bloomed in confidence and struck up ‘family-like’ bonds.

Music and song have proven powerful tools in uniting these veterans, who are all Scottish War Blinded members, and in combatting loneliness.

Members of the Linburn Choir stand together with some holding musical instruments

In Scottish War Blinded research carried out earlier this year, two thirds of the charity’s members said they have experienced loneliness as a result of their sight loss.

And those two thirds also said access to the charity’s services played the greatest role in helping them overcome social isolation.

Linburn Centre Officer Gillian Raw had been running the Edinburgh Military Wives choir with her daughter when she joined Scottish War Blinded, and spearheaded setting up the choir.

Gillian said: “Some of the members had asked about having a singing session so we thought, why not have a choir of our own?

“They love it as it gives them a sense of purpose – belonging to a group that relies on one another’s voices to collectively make a sound they are happy with. We now have around 15 regular choir members.

“Some of them also find it quite therapeutic. The choir provides an opportunity for social interaction for members who live alone and would not see or speak to anyone that day if they didn’t attend the centre.

It’s instilled confidence in these members who to begin with were extremely shy. They feel they belong to something – something they have created as a group. There’s a really good feeling when they’re all together.”

The choir have been overcoming the challenges posed by sight loss together on practical levels too as well as social – utilising enlarged fonts for song sheets and lots of repetition in rehearsals to ingrain lyrics for members whose vision impairments hinder them from reading at all.

Choir member and Royal Navy veteran, John Finlay, said: “I’ve been involved with the choir since the beginning. I’ve always enjoyed singing, and it’s like being part of a family.”

Royal Air Force veteran, Jacques Crighton, added: “I’d never really done any signing before and don’t sing at home. I just wanted to give it a try. I enjoy it.

“My favourite song we sing is the Chattanooga Choo Choo. I do find the choir therapeutic, the singing is very relaxing.

“I wouldn’t sing on my own yet, but I’m alright singing with other people.

“I’d recommend any veterans with sight loss to get in touch with Scottish War Blinded. The Linburn Centre is a great place.”

Professional music teacher, Robert Briggs, who leads the choir, stresses that familiarity with songs, particularly Christmas carols, is a powerful method in bringing the veterans together.

Robert said: “One of the things that’s been important is the choice of music. We speak about it as a group. We’ve been choosing a lot of music from the veterans’ past, and Christmas songs are especially familiar.

“The choir’s a big part of the veterans’ week – the catch up chat and the jokes before we all get started are a big part of the whole thing too.

“It’s nice working with them all, they are a funny group. They really do want to improve, too. Behind all the jokes there is a seriousness about it to get better.”

Following a Christmas performance for fellow members at the Linburn Centre, the choir has a first public performance in the pipeline for the new year and even a CD recording.

And the veterans have not only participated in the centre’s choir – they continue to find new friendships, skills and hobbies through activities like archery, wood work, cookery sessions, strength and fitness classes and acoustic shooting at the activity hub. 

Scottish War Blinded Director, Rebecca Barr, added: “Our research has shown that too many of our members have experienced social isolation as a result of their sight loss, and access to the services we provide is crucial to help our veterans overcome loneliness or prevent them from becoming isolated.”

Scottish War Blinded gives free support to former servicemen and women of all ages, no matter if they lost their sight during or after service.

The Linburn Centre offers activities with transport provided free of charge. Call 0800 035 6409 to refer a veteran to the charity.