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A Song For Life

28th October 2020

The Swan Song Project is a unique idea that supports people near the end of their lives or facing the loss of a loved one, to write and record their own songs.

In normal times it works with local hospices in Bradford and Leeds, where its founder and creative director, Ben Buddy Slack, spends time with the patients who are ill or bereaved.

Ben is one of a special group of people being honoured with a community bench in their name to celebrate those who have provided invaluable support during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ben Buddy Slack with the bench dedicated to him at Meanwood Park, Leeds
Ben Buddy Slack with the bench dedicated to him at Meanwood Park, Leeds

Over lockdown, the National Lottery funded project, was forced to adapt to work virtually while moving to meet a nationwide need.

Ben, who is aged 30, says: “The idea first came to me after I lost my Grandma Teresa a few years ago.

She used to love singing with us. A lot of my musical upbringing was at her house singing songs. So, when she was right near the end, my uncle and I sung one her favourite songs to her.

Her reaction was amazing, considering she’d been so ill, says Ben.

He quickly realised what a powerful effect music could have on those nearing the end of their lives.

Ben, a songwriter himself, decided to see if other people wanted to write and record songs near the end of their own lives.

He describes the reaction as “bonkers”.

“I’d never run anything myself and I had just been a songwriter, so it’s been a steep learning curve,” he says.

So far 65 people have recorded songs, with the project starting at the Marie Curie Hospice in Bradford and then moving to include St Gemma’s Hospice in Leeds and then to Wheatfields Hospice in Leeds.

Ben Buddy Slack with the bench dedicated to him at Meanwood Park, Leeds
Ben Buddy Slack with the bench dedicated to him at Meanwood Park, Leeds

The charity is just one of the many charities supported by The National Lottery with players contribute around £30 million a week to good causes.

In the process Ben says he has learned a lot about how bereavement and different terminal illnesses affect people.

He says: “One thing that’s really interesting is learning about what people want to say in their songs.

“They get played at funerals a lot and for me, knowing what it’s like losing someone, anything that brings a bit of joy and comfort during that time is just my favourite thing about it all.

As well as hiring another staff member, Ben has started a podcast during lockdown where songwriters talk about their experience of bereavement which has now amassed 50 episodes.

He says: “The National Lottery have funded us from the start and were our first funder – it’s been amazing.

“We definitely wouldn’t have grown in the same way if it wasn’t for Lottery support - it would have been much harder, and I don’t know if I would have packed it in at some point. They’ve always been there keep it afloat”