From a wannabe 80's musician via the world of antique textiles, Nick Waterhouse offers a fascinating insight into his journey to becoming facilitator at Alzheimer's Support's Music for the Mind groups at Bradford on Avon and Westbury Leigh.

Tell us something about your early life and your career history?

Music has always played an important part in my life.

I grew up in London and went to university in Exeter, where I met my partner Caroline [Caroline Radcliffe, Alzheimer’s Support Music for the Mind practitioner] and we formed a band together. I was singing and playing guitar and trombone. I still do all three! 

We spent the first half of the 80’s being wannabe pop musicians, touring and recording. When the band broke up, I started working for my sister, a carpet restorer, and gradually moved into the very esoteric world of antique textiles, helping to run a conservation studio and prepare exhibitions for a gallery, which took to me to some very interesting places… but mainly meant that I could carry on playing music without having to worry about earning a living from it! 

When that job came to an end, our three children were growing up fast and I became house husband for a year while Caroline developed her singing teaching and choir leading skills; after 18 months she asked me when I was going to get a job. I decided I liked not travelling so looked for work in our home town of Frome, finding a role as a cover teacher at Frome College, where I was also able to work with the music department on extra-curricular activities for the students.

Why did you start working for Alzheimer's support?

My wife Caroline had been working for Alzheimer’s Support, and it so happened that, as I finished work at Frome College at the end of 2021, her manager was retiring. She suggested I apply for the role and put my combination of admin and music skills to good use, so, after 40 years, here we are working together again!

What do you find most rewarding about your job?

Music brings joy; I love helping create the opportunities for that to happen. Our Bradford on Avon group meets every Monday at the Wiltshire Music Centre and I think perhaps we have the best Monday morning job ever! 

I’ve learned that anything might happen, and it’s a good idea to expect the unexpected. Everybody has a multitude of experiences and stories to tell. I never thought I’d have a job where I got to meet so many people from different walks of life - academics, artists, adventurers and explorers, a spitfire pilot, a deep-sea diver, a miner… the list goes on. 

What became clear to me very quickly was how people living with dementia can develop their musical skills and build on songs from week to week to sing in harmony, in rounds, take solos and express themselves as equal members of the group. Often this takes their own partners by surprise!

Tell us about any special moments that stand out

As our groups have grown gradually over the last two years post-lockdown, I’ve had the privilege of meeting and making music with many extraordinary people. Among all the things we do, the stand out moments are probably those times when we have been singing songs together from memory (which often means everyone singing the first few lines before fading away!) and a member who struggles to express themselves most of the time has carried on to performed the rest of the song in a beautiful solo voice.

What advice would you give to a new member of staff?

Try to find ways of talking with people living with dementia that doesn’t involve asking any questions, and never contradict - they are always right!


Video - Let it Be with Caroline and Nick at their Bradford on Avon group

More about Music for the Mind at Alzheimer's Support

black and white picture credit: David Goodman