The Arts Business Innovation Fund + 4MBS
New finance models are creating opportunities for arts and cultural organisations to break the mould and develop new and inventive ways to leverage financing and support. Thanks to one such investment fund and one such organisation, aged care residents across Australia are enjoying golden oldies and feeling the therapeutic benefit to boot.
The Arts Business Innovation Fund (ABIF), a joint initiative by the Queensland government and the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation, offers a grant and loan package up to $100,000 for not-for-profits. With support from the fund, Brisbane-based classical broadcaster 4MBS FM has expanded its Silver Memories program to become a nation-wide, 24-hour satellite service. We spoke with 4MBS’s General Manager Gary Thorpe to find out more.
Silver Memories has been operating in the greater Brisbane area for almost a decade now – tell us where the original concept came from?
I became aware of the issue of social isolation in aged care after a neighbour, Jean, had a stroke and went into an aged care home. She was in her mid- eighties and there was really not a lot there to engage her – she didn’t like television much and the available radio programs were not of great interest.
Jean started to become very withdrawn and was sliding towards dementia. I decided to create a radio service specifically to entertain and engage older listeners like Jean.
What was the impetus to expand the program, and how did you do it? Who did you talk to, what did you learn and where did this leave you?
An article about Silver Memories appeared in the Courier Mail a few years ago and we were swamped with enquiries – a lot of those calls came from outside of Brisbane. We became aware that there was a need for a service Australia wide so we started to look at ways of delivering the radio service nationally.
I spoke to the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation and they provided funding for the satellite fee for the first year. This provided us with the opportunity to deliver the service to any location in Australia.
I also spoke to the Viertel Foundation and the John Villiers Trust and some smaller foundations who all contributed. When the ABIF program was announced we saw it as a perfect fit for our aims for the expansion of Silver Memories throughout Queensland.
Tell us why Silver Memories is so important and why you think it’s struck a chord with funders, health providers and audiences alike?
Silver Memories is important because it is unique – a radio service specifically aimed at improving the quality of life of socially isolated people and addressing the effects of dementia such as agitation and wandering. It is a non-pharmacological approach – reducing anxiety and agitation through the power of music.
Over-medication is a major issue in aged care and research being funded by the federal Department of Health will look at the extent to which listening to Silver Memories can reduce the need for medication to address agitation.
Silver Memories is a 24 hour a day service with no advertising, no news broadcasts – just appropriate music and entertainment presented by announcers who are of a similar age to the listeners. Audiences love the friendly mood of the station – we have old radio serials and old time comedy spots and birthday calls to residents and lots of reminiscing.
Let’s talk innovation. Tell us about your business model and how you came to this design?
We made a conscious decision not to run advertising on Silver Memories – it’s just not appropriate for the listeners especially those in aged care. So we seek income from other sources- these include subscriptions from the aged care homes, philanthropic support and government grants. When we have 300 aged care homes subscribing to the service we will be self – sufficient.
How important has the Arts Business Innovation Fund investment been in achieving your goals?
ABIF has given us the funds upfront to be able to expand the service to more aged care homes in Queensland and to increase our staffing for the service.
What legacy will this support leave for your organisation? Will it make you think differently about your day-to-day programming, opportunities or any future projects?
It will provide a larger base on which to develop the service – there will be more homes to provide feedback about the programs, more input from the homes’ Diversional Therapists and a larger number of listeners in the homes for our research into the effectiveness of the service.
With expansion comes risk. Can you tell us a bit about how you’ve approached this challenge and any lessons you have as result of this? Is there anything you would do differently?
We are a community operated organisation so we’re used to managing risk – it’s part of our daily existence. When we decided to expand Silver Memories to become a national service we had to look closely at all parts of the operation to identify the risks.
We identified short term and long term risks and set about addressing them as best we could within our available budget and capacity. We soon realised that we would need to increase our staffing if we were to be able to service 300 homes in the future.
A key factor in the success of this program seems to be the willing adoption of the program within the aged care facilities and within their treatment programs. How did you go about establishing this relationship and how does this relationship affect your programming and operations?
We attended as many aged care conferences as our budget would allow and submitted articles to aged care publications to increase awareness of Silver Memories in the aged care sector. I was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to research the use of music in the management of dementia and this provided a solid research base for the programming.
For example, through the research we became aware of the Sundown Effect where residents can get agitated late in the day so we modified our program content to more calming music.
We have also developed a comprehensive Activity Kit for Diversional Therapists and Lifestyle Coordinators to help them incorporate Silver Memories into the care plans of the residents. This awareness of the practical aspects of the aged care environment has helped with the adoption of the service.
We actively seek feedback from the residents of the homes and this has resulted in several changes to program times and content – after all, the service is for the residents.
Finally, what are the next steps for Silver Memories?
To our amazement we have discovered that Silver Memories is unique in the world. So we are looking at how we can bring the Silver Memories concept to other countries.
Silver Memories has been trademarked in the UK, Canada and the USA with this in mind. In Australia, Decca are releasing a series of Silver Memories CDs in conjunction with the radio station. The first CD features Dame Vera Lynn who is the Patron of Silver Memories.