The Extraordinary Arts Packages projects were designed in partnership between Sinfonia Viva, Orchestras Live and Local Authority partners in Babergh & Mid Suffolk, Broadland, South Holland and Essex, offering creative engagement as part of the social recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic across the UK during 2021.

The initial phase involved commissioning writer Hazel Gould, musician Hannah Opstad and artist Abbie Canning to create the ExtraOrdinary Arts Packages, which featured activities focussed on finding the extraordinary in the ordinary through listening, thinking, writing and creating. This was designed at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown and was particularly targeted at vulnerable and isolated adults and sought to provide them with some creativity and connection. 

The Arts Packages were A4 printed booklets which included a packet of sunflower seeds and a DVD of a performance featuring Sinfonia Viva's String Quartet which provided inspiration for some of the activities.

1,250 Arts Packages in total were created and shared with individuals and groups in the areas involved in the project. In each of the four areas, the distribution of the packages was followed by a creative music project. The shape of the music project was different in each area. They were designed to meet need, and with the specific groups and their particular circumstances in mind. We were able to offer workshops online and in-person (and even a hybrid of both!) to suit the needs of the group, or to connect with participants whilst restrictions around face-to-face delivery were in place.


The creative music sessions involved people as a group activity, working closely with the Dementia Action Alliances, or in care homes, supported by care staff, in day centres, as well as being shared directly with individuals in the community. Through games and engaging activities, participants explored their own creativity or relationship with music. It was through meaningful communication between the musician team and the participants that people were able to share and connect.

Broadland (May – July 2021)

Our first project in Broadland was led by Creative Workshop Leader Sam Glazer and musicians Ant Thompson (Trumpet) and Helena Ruinard (Violin). Restrictions at the time meant we delivered all of the creative workshop sessions online, through Zoom to both care homes. The residents joined us on a weekly basis, listening and responding to live music, conducting through the screen and connecting with our creative music team, reflecting on how music moves us, or can connect us to our pasts. Our finale was very special as restrictions lifted in time for us to visit the care homes in person and perform with a larger ensemble of musicians. The programme of music was informed by the creative music sessions we’d had with the residents over the 5 weeks, and with hand-held percussion at the ready, participants were able to tap and shake along, or simply sit and enjoy experiencing live>


"I was doing a music session with them this morning on Skype and they were just full of the fact of the orchestra coming in on Wednesday. They have loved it. I am so delighted at your kindness in doing something that is restoring their morale after the terrible time they'd all had. I couldn’t be more grateful.” (Volunteer at Woodside House Care Home)

Babergh & Mid-Suffolk (July – August 2021)

Led by Tim Steiner and a team of musicians, we had the pleasure of joining the Chilton Club in Sudbury on a weekly basis throughout July and August, every Tuesday morning. For the afternoons we were able to diversify our offer across the region; we had a session with a Together Tuesday group and residents at Sydney Brown Court care home in Hadleigh, and created a bespoke video for Cedrus House Care Home in Stowmarket. Tim also led a session for Activity Leaders, drawing on his wealth of experience to build on resources and ideas for integrating musical activities specifically for people living with dementia. The project accumulated in a final session with a performance at Red Gables in Stowmarket out on the lawn with individuals from various established community groups, enjoying hearing solos, group performances and joining in with music activities – it was a really special moment for individuals to reconnect. Many for whom this was the first group activity or live event they had attended for nearly 18>



"A new member we had attending the centre for the first time today was heard to say: "Best time I've had in my life"" (Jilly Vince, Chilton Club Manager)

South Holland (September 2021)

Our brass quintet joined forces with locally-based singer Amber Sinclair and music leader Hannah Opstad to present a series of concerts in 5 Sheltered Housing communities in and around Spalding. The concerts were really well received by residents and there is a great appetite for further creative music work in the area in future.

"It transported me to another world.  It was a beautiful distraction." (Participant)

The Sinfonia Viva team had many conversations with the sheltered housing residents who joined the informal performances, which always ended in a chat over a cup of tea.  One resident recalled working together with the orchestra for a previous project which had culminated in a performance with the orchestra at the South Holland Centre in November 2018.  She shared that she had found the programme from the performance that morning, had looked through it and felt excited about coming to see us again.  She recounted our previous shared experience with such joy and was delighted that her orchestra had returned to perform again.

Basildon, Essex (September – October 2021)

In Basildon we worked with Peaceful Place, a centre for those with young onset Dementia, Carers Choices in Benfleet a day centre for those living with Dementia and Kool Carers, an organisation designed to support young carers in Essex. 

The workshop sessions were all live sessions, facilitated by Music Leader Sam Glazer with Janina Kopinska, Dave Ayre and Maddy Aldis-Evans. The 5 weekly sessions in the two centres for adults living with Dementia were totally improvised. The team had a musical theme which they improvised around to open and close each of the project sessions. The participants quickly recognised this and joined in with the improvisation using their voices. Improvisation continued throughout the sessions, with individuals directing musicians using instruments, a conductor's baton and their voices. Each individual had the opportunity to lead different elements during the course of the workshops, with the Sinfonia Viva team working closely with staff at the participating venues to help understand the participants more deeply.

"Our normal relaxed, calm, jovial atmosphere had been replaced with confusion, uncertainty and some fear but also excitement of being back together. We needed to regroup, connect and get to know each other again. The question was how? The answer Sinfonia Viva.  They came and dusted the centre with a calm, warm, musical glow. We sat back and collectively allowed ourselves to be transported by music back to our familiar jovial and calm environment." (Charlotte Curran, CEO Peaceful Place)

Two day-long workshop sessions were run in partnership with Kool Carers. During the sessions the young carers and their support staff worked with the Sinfonia Viva team to create a new song inspired by their experiences of being young carers. They wrote the words and melodies and performed it accompanied by the orchestra, on stage at Towngate Theatre.

"It was a release, a way to vent out how we feel. It got the point across better than just saying it." (Young Carer)

The session culminated with a performance with the full orchestra at Towngate Theatre in Basildon.  It was a joyful occasion which included a range of different music and opportunities for the participants to share the music they had made with us during the project.

"The way in which these inclusive workshops were facilitated made the young carers feel valued and respected. It was so lovely for them, that all the facilitators were so interested in what they had to say and each individual was empowered and encouraged to share their thoughts." (Rachel Tungate, CEO Kool Carers)

The full evaluation report includes some incredible case studies and further information about the whole programme.

The ExtraOrdinary Arts Packages projects were produced and supported in partnership with Sinfonia Viva, Orchestras Live, Arts Council England, Broadland District Council, Babergh & Mid Suffolk District Councils, South Holland District Council, People's Postcode Lottery, Postcode Community Trust, Basildon Council, Essex County Council, Peaceful Place, Carers Choices, Kool Carers, Towngate Theatre and The Offshoot Foundation.

Photos and films by Offshoot Films.