Through a pilot project, launched by Tom Binns, who founded and runs Glasgow Piano City, a small number of patients with mental health or social problems are referred informally by GPs, community links practitioners and other organisations for tuition and participation in decoration activities on pianos located around the city.
Glasgow Piano City was set up to install pianos in public spaces during the Commonwealth Games in 2014 to encourage more people to play and create the opportunity for moments of spontaneous human contact. It now has around 20 hand-decorated pianos in hospitals, museums, cafes and galleries throughout Glasgow and over 40 more instruments, donated to the project, housed in community projects, care homes and schools with more venues housing pianos in 2017.
The Pianos on Prescription scheme aims not just to help people learn a musical skill but also receive one-to-one attention and be supported through a process of strengthening connection with others.
Those who have benefited include Lorraine, affected by serious brain injury, who had weekly lessons on a baby grand piano at the community cafe in the east end of Glasgow where she volunteered. She recently played duets on a Steinway at a ‘Lids Open Day’ event, partnered by Charlie, a pensioner referred to the scheme by his local GP following the death of his wife and a period of ill-health.
Staff at Gartnavel Royal Hospital in Glasgow reported a “remarkable” improvement in the behaviour of patients with mental health problems who have been playing a piano installed in the hospital entrance hall, where everyone – patients, staff and visitors – pass it.
You can really see the transformation. People from the intensive psychiatric care unit, who are extremely unwell and who maybe can’t have a conversation with someone and have to be accompanied by staff, are less anxious after they play or listen - Fiona Sinclair, Gartnavel volunteer services manager
Founder Tom Binns said: “People need places to go that support and sustain them and things to do that are enriching and fun. That is exactly what we are aiming for.
“Pianos on Prescription aims to support people of all ages and from all walks of life to have more everyday access to their playfulness. It’s not primarily about entertainment or being a performer, It’s all about listening, finding a way to express something and being in contact with yourself and other people.
“The Firstport Social Innovation Award funding arrived at a moment when we were approaching an important transition point, including taking on an empty shop unit to create a home base for our activities for the first time. It also helped us take the step to grow from an unincorporated association into The Piano Project CIC (community interest company) and become the fully fledged social enterprise that we are.
“After feeling that the project was a ball rolling downhill for the first few years, this new phase marks a moment when we can plan for the future, consolidating the success we have had with Glasgow Piano City and securing long term funding to support free or subsidised tuition.”