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Ways of connecting for mental health

Come forth into the light of things,

Let nature be your teacher




It is not that something different is seen, but that one sees differently. It is as though the spatial act of seeing were changed by a new dimension.

- Carl Jung

SongPath is a mental health initiative designed to provide participants with nourishing ways of connecting through walking, talking & music-making in the beautiful landscapes of South Cumbria & beyond. We raise funds for our two local branches of the mental health charity Mind: Mind in Furness & Ulverston Mind


Through SongPath 2019 we raised a total of £5796.75 for these two vital local causes.

So what exactly is a SongPath?


Well, we take a short route – two to three miles – and through engaging with that route and the people we find on it, we reveal a wealth of connections to music, art, poetry & science, immediately accessible and united by common roots.  We re-enchant our surroundings by deepening and enriching our appreciation of what lies underfoot and over head. We also reveal connections to ourselves, past, present and future, and to each other: “an unexpectedly powerful camaraderie”, one 2019 participant said.

Why do this? 


All mental health conditions are characterised by disconnection: from ourselves, our families, our friends & the world around us.  At SongPath, we think the road to disconnection is a bit too well travelled. 

The brain is an inherently connective structure: a rich, intricate web of interrelations and associations.  SongPath reflects, harnesses & cultivates this beautiful, powerful & exponential connectivity. By stepping onto the SongPath, we can learn to see things differently: not through a lens of fear, but with a kind, imaginative curiosity, and with hope. 

The ash tree we touch here and now shapeshifts into the ash tree of your childhood garden or the Yggdrasil, the World Tree of Ancient Norse Mythology; Cedric Robinson walking the sands of Morecambe Bay might point us to J.M.W. Turner’s paintings of the same seascape just a century before or Franz Liszt’s wonderful depiction for piano of St Francis of Paola miraculously walking the Strait of Messina to Sicily in 1464. 


The wandering of the legs gives rise to the wandering of the mind, across centuries, continents, modes of thought, fact, fiction, emotions, memories, and back again.  In an industrial and digital age of bodily disconnection, music & walking also restore our attunement to natural bodily rhythms. Good mental health is to be found in connections & SongPath has them in spades.


Our inaugural event took place in June 2019 in collaboration with Ulverston International Music Festival. We created a trail bursting with music, song, poetry, meditation and dance from the coastal village of Bardsea to Swarthmoor Hall, via Birkrigg Common & Swarthmoor Hall Wood. We also held preparatory sessions throughout the year at Mind in Furness for service users & volunteers & began the route with a fair of stands to showcase local wellbeing organisations.

The event was free for all; we emphasised that no-one should be put off attending due to financial reasons. We also provided a free transport service from Ulverston. However, donations were encouraged to the mental health charity Mind. Our suggested donation was £10 and all money raised was split between our two local branches: Mind In Furness & Ulverston Mind.  

We were thrilled to raise a total of £5796.75 (with GiftAid). 

There were 120 walkers, 20 local & London-based professional classical & folk musicians, one of whom was the internationally renowned concert pianist Martin Roscoe, as well as a newly formed Mind Choir, Furness Music Centre Community Choir, the cognitive behavioural therapist Rufus Harrington and other speakers we literally found on route in our preparations.  All gave their time and skills on a voluntary basis. Hampstead Parish Church, where Jess is the regular alto kindly released their professional choir for the day & were also extremely generous in their donations to our chosen branches of Mind. Everyone, performers & participants, walked together.  Those with reduced mobility were provided with a minibus service & people were free to take part in as much or as little of the day as they liked.  

Stewarding was primarily & generously provided by The Rotary Club of Furness Peninsula, assisted by FurnessBarrow & Ulverston Rotary Clubs.  Refreshments were provided by Inner Wheel & staff at Swarthmoor Hall.  We were greatly helped in our logistical planning by Furness Peninsula Rotarian John McGill, also of BeWellFest. 

SongPath is hugely grateful to the Royal Overseas League’s Roderick Lakin Professional Development Award and other private donations, without which our first event would not have been possible. SongPath 2019 was held in memory of Roderick Lakin, MBE, the organisation’s beloved former Director of Arts who died tragically in 2015. The Royal Over-Seas League (ROSL) is a not-for-profit private members’ organisation dedicated to championing international friendship and understanding. They help artists and musicians across the Commonwealth connect, collaborate and create. In addition to their financial aid, ROSL, and particularly their current Director of Arts Geoff Parkin provided mentoring to Jess in the run-up to June’s event. She also benefited from invaluable administrative help from her agent, Hazard Chase Artists Management, Ulverston International Music Festival & Mind in Furness. 

Jess Dandy
Co-founder & Contralto
Jess is from Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria, and is one of the co-founders of SongPath. As a contralto performing around the world, her passion is Lieder, and she enjoys putting together programmes of poetry and song inspired by the landscapes around her.
Martin Roscoe
During his illustrious career, Martin Roscoe has become one of the UK’s most loved and respected pianists. With his extensive repertoire, consummate musicianship and immediate connection with audiences, he is in great demand as a concerto soloist, chamber musician and recitalist. Martin appears regularly at Wigmore Hall and has long-standing associations with many of the UK’s leading orchestras such as the BBC Philharmonic and BBC Scottish Symphony.
Rufus Harrington
Senior Lecturer, University of Cumbria
Rufus Harrington is a Senior Lecturer in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy at the University of Cumbria.
Helen Daniels
Event Administrator
Helen is from Coventry and has joined the SongPath team as Event Administrator. Following three years working in arts administration Helen became a freelance singer and is now combining her passions of singing and event organisation with studying for a vocal masters degree at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. Alongside her career Helen is a keen long distance runner and enjoys having the opportunity to experience her everyday landscapes differently when training
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The Origins of SongPath

SongPath’s founder, Jess Dandy was born and brought up in Barrow.  She went on to read languages at Cambridge, where, through being a member of Trinity College Choir, she developed a passion for singing, which led her to undertake postgraduate qualifications and a fellowship at Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London.  She is now a professional contralto, and divides her time between Cumbria, London & touring internationally. She says:


“The impetus for SongPath came in November 2016 when I had to come home from London to deal with some very challenging mental health issues.  Diagnosed with severe anxiety & depression, I was unable to listen to music, let alone make it. I felt I had lost everything. I received outstanding care from the NHS Crisis Team and Community Mental Health Assessment and Recovery Team, as well as an inpouring of  unconditional love, kindness and patience from my family, friends and community I’ll never be able to repay fully. I spent a lot of time walking in the deep time landscapes of the Lake District and South Cumbria and this brought me back to a semblance of reality, one in which I could breathe, recalibrate and begin to piece back together what had so spectacularly fragmented in London. I am convinced that I could not have recovered without putting one foot in front of the other, with others and helped by others.


One evening in May, I wandered into the kitchen and felt able to sing again; it seemed as though something had finally shifted.  I tentatively put my toe back in the water and joined local choral societies. Here, I was really struck by the power of community and music-making not predicated on competition or unforgiving professional standards. I was really humbled and touched by how much local choirs and groups provided support and structure for people, whilst creating something that could bring such joy & energy to performers & audiences alike. 


I decided to explore the notion of a musical journey, combining and promoting my two great loves to raise money and awareness for the mental health charity Mind.  As a freelance musician, it seems I am not alone. A Help Musicians UK study, completed by the University of Westminster, investigated 2,211 musicians, 71.1 per cent of whom said they had suffered from panic attacks or anxiety, with 68.5 per cent saying they had struggled with depression.   


This initiative however is not solely directed towards musicians; nor is it purely musical in form. Musician or not, one in four of us will experience mental health difficulties at some point in our own lives – and everyone will have friends, family and colleagues who do.  Music, the poetry of the songs we sing & walking in nature, draw musicians and non-musicians alike deep down into the condition of what it means to be alive in the world and the healing power of connecting to that condition.”


“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see”

Mark Twain




Sunday 23rd August 2020 10am-5pm 

It is with mixed feelings that we announce our plans for this year’s SongPath. We will continue to prepare as if the event will take place on 23rd August, but of course prioritise the mental & physical wellbeing of all participants & will continue to follow the government’s guidelines in our decision whether or not to go ahead. In the meantime, we invite you to explore & share your thoughts on what Furness means to you & how you find connection in your everyday lives, particularly at this difficult time. 

“The path is short but the way is deep”
Hildegard von Bingen 

Furness Abbey - Abbotswood - Dalton Parish Church 

SongPath 2020 takes part of the Cistercian Way as its inspiration to explore the routes and roots of Old Furness. 

The event will be free for all but pre-registration online will be essential as numbers will be limited. Pre-registration will be via Eventbrite from 1st July. 

We continue to invite donations to Mind in Furness & Ulverston Mind. Our Virgin Money Giving Page will be open again shortly. 

We begin at Furness Abbey, thinking about the power of place, the natural symbolism of valleys, how the medieval Cistercians approached mental health & how heritage can heal us.


There will be a professional choir bringing the abbey back to life with period Cistercian music & Hildegard von Bingen chant, a medieval trumpeter & other instrumentalists, as well as folk musicians, mental health speakers, a current-day Cistercian, an expert on the natural inspirations of medieval abbey architecture and an artist specialising in illuminated manuscripts.


We’ll also think about the personal histories associated with the abbey, its continuing role as an emotional & spiritual touchstone for the local community & in so doing we’ll produce with songwriter Mary Dunsford - Musician a new Furness Abbey Songbook based on memories collected by Furness Abbey Fellowship member, Gary Cunliffe.


The core group of Jess Dandy, ContraltoMartin Roscoe pianist & Rufus Harrington cognitive behavioural psychotherapist remains the same throughout the day. The SongPath piano will return in its diminutive glory. Community groups, choirs & the Mind choir will again be involved as we make our way back into the deep time of our local sandstone geology, and ‘step into the story’ of Old Furness, as English Heritage so beguilingly puts it. 

Next we’ll make our way up into Abbotswood, exploring through music & dance the folkloric forest beliefs of those who came before the Cistercians, thinking about the therapeutic effects of exercising the imagination & spending time amongst trees, & learning from the beautiful mutualism of the wood wide web. 

From there, we’ll walk to Dalton. On the way, Barrow’s Beautiful Placesfounder Helen Wall will tell us about the local icon & weather forecaster, Black Combe & we’ll have some singalong walking songs for all to enjoy. 

At St Mary's Church, Dalton-in-Furness, their Reverend Ruth Crossley will speak about her approach to mental health, and we’ll be led in meditation by one of the practitioners of the church’s Christian meditation group. A more conventional concert with the theme of ‘Music as Medicine’ will end the day, with a significant contribution from Martin Roscoe, Jess & the SongPath choir, as well as other local musicians & community choirs. The day will culminate in the communal singing of the SongPath anthem. 

As with our 2019 event, stewarding and refreshments will be provided by Rotary & Inner Wheel respectively.

You can follow us on social media, or sign up to our mailing list to hear more about our SongPath 2020 work. 




Our SongPath events support the mental health charity Mind.

For over more than 60 years Mind has worked to improve the lives of all people with experience of mental health problems. Through public campaigns, government lobbying and more than 1,000 services local groups have delivered in communities across England and Wales, Mind has touched millions of lives. They provide advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem, and campaign to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding.

SongPath 2019 supported Mind in Furness and Ulverston Mind and raised well over £5,000.

We are currently seeking funding to develop the work of SongPath. If you are interested in supporting SongPath, please contact us via info@songpath.co.uk or our website contact page.