Staff at the Cheyne Gang reflect on supporting people during the pandemic.

The Cheyne Gang is a small Scottish Charity created by three Practice Nurses to initially support their own patients with long term respiratory disease, such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). After reading a research study in 2013 showing how singing and learning breath control could help with the distressing breathlessness associated with COPD, we started a singing for breathing group in Edinburgh.

We employed a singing group leader and our research, supported by the Queen’s Nursing Institute for Scotland, showed improvements in patients’ breath control, sleep, anxiety and a reduction in exacerbations of their COPD.

Eight years down the line, the Cheyne Gang has gone from one singing group with eight members to seven groups with over 200 members across Edinburgh, Glasgow and the Scottish Borders.

With the help of funding from Creative Scotland, the team (nurses, singing group leader, professional vocal coach, and a nursing colleague with a background in education), wrote and presented a weekend course on the methods applied for using singing to ease breathlessness. From this we were able to train and recruit four more group leaders to facilitate groups and to open more across Scotland.

Never did we imagine that our singing for breathing groups would perform with two street orchestras, sing at the Edinburgh Book Festival and be only the second artists to sing live at the Scottish Parliament.

Unfortunately, the Cheyne Gang members are vulnerable to respiratory viruses, so the COVID-19 pandemic meant that the majority of our 200 members began shielding in the spring of 2020.

We were well placed to see that this pandemic was going to be around for a while, so recruited a video editor and web designer who posted weekly videos of singing, breathing and gentle physical exercises, provided by the singing group leaders. We also posted DVDs to members without internet access. In addition, the admin team organised telephone trees and doorstep visits for their groups, retaining contact and some degree of social interaction for our members. The team made up “goodie bags” containing stationery, soap, chocolate, pencils, and a newsletter, and ensured that every member received one plus a Christmas themed facemask specially commissioned for them.

The feedback received from the members over this difficult period was overwhelmingly positive and heart-warming. Sadly, some members were lost for various reasons but almost all the groups wished to return to the face-to-face sessions. This came to fruition in October 2021 with six groups resuming for a shorter session with all COVID-19 mitigations in place. The joy of being back in the room was palpable. Online exercises continue for those members who aren’t ready to return, and plans are in place to livestream future sessions. A return to face-to-face sessions is planned for February 2022.

Plans for the Cheyne Gang in 2022 include the development of a web-based resource to support people who have Long Covid and an updated course for singing group leaders which will be offered Scotland wide.  So, watch this space!

Please follow The Cheyne Gang on Twitter @CheyneGang_COPD, on Instagram @TheCheyneGang, and on Facebook.

Details of the groups can be found on our website (this link will take you away from our website).


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