For a group of Glaswegians, Wednesday afternoon marks a highlight of their week as they gather in Dennistoun Parish Church to sing their hearts out to in a bid to ease long-term breathing conditions.

For two hours up to 18 people practice warm-ups, sing hand-picked songs and spend time with others who live with long-term conditions including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pulmonary fibrosis, asthma and severe anxiety.

Set up last July by PhD student Sophie Boyd and practice nurse Janice Merrick, the east end community choir arms its attendees with breathing techniques that supports their singing as well as helping them manage their breathing difficulties.

For Davie Hamilton, 68, who travels from his home in Possilpark to the Dennistoun group, the choir has given him so much more than just a toolkit to manage his COPD.


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He said: "The breathing exercises that we do definitely helped. You tend not to think about your breathing, it's like walking, it's just something you do.

" Something as simple as slowing my breathing down has been very beneficial. Sometimes when I was out walking I had to slow down or stop because my breathing was getting laboured and that could create a sense of panic, but nowadays when anything like that happens, I immediately know what to do.

"After a wee session with the group I feel more positive and I'm breathing much better."

At its worst, Davie's COPD left him house-ridden.

"It would stop me going out because when my breathing was bad it would debilitate me to the point where moving around the house even causing me breathlessness," he said. "Sometimes it was quite alarming."

But now that Davie knows how to manage his breath, his confidence has soared and he no longer feels isolated.

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He said: "I was a wee bit reluctant at first [to go the the group] because I played in bands for years and the one thing I don't do is sing. I don't have a good voice but it's a great group, they're very welcoming.

"The social aspect is positive as well - it was easy to fit in. It has greatly improved my quality of life."

The group is run with the help of Davie's daughter and community links practitioner Deborah Hamilton and GP receptionist Irene ferry, and a second group, in Bridgeton, is due to start in September at the Bridgeton Learning Community Campus.

Now under the umbrella of Scotland-wide charity the Cheyne Gang, set up in 2013 by practice nurses Pauline Waugh, Anne Ritchie and Sarah Marshall in Edinburgh, both Glasgow groups will continue to give participants the tools to help with their primary physical conditions but also their emotional health too.

Voice coach Sophie, who trained with the Cheyne Gang, said: "Research has shown that singing for breathing groups have lots of impacts on people's health but also their wellbeing. People have a lot more confidence in what they can do day-to-day after learning the breathing techniques. It gives people agency over their body when they are in control of their breath.

"The group tackles social isolation because people are getting together and having fun and doing something productive and creative together."

Seeing the"massive" difference in the singers is "quite emotional" for Sophie, whose studies centre around the benefits of community singing groups.

She said: "When you see and hear where we are from a year ago is such a difference. So many people have said they feel more confident and you really hear that in the sound because people let themselves sing out which can be really hard for people, especially if they've been told they can't sing."


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For Norma, from Cambuslang, the Dennistoun Cheyne Gang has been "life-changing".

She said: "It's vastly improved my breathing and my oxygen levels have increased. I can get around more easily and coming makes me very happy."

Living with COPD and asthma meant the 67-year-old took regular medication and couldn't move around freely.

She said: "I used to be on steroids every eight weeks and I haven't had any for five months.

"Now I'm breathing properly I can climb hills again and have stopped taking taxis."

Since joining, some of co-founder Janice's patients are taking less medication, enjoying more activities and sleeping better thanks to the group.

She said: "I've been nursing for 40 years and this has to by far the best project I've been involved in where people are feeling so much better.

"They're being taught to use their abdominal muscles rather than their chests, where you can feel quite constricted breathing from. People don't tend to panic so much when they know they can stop, take a breath and just relax, so it's teaching people to self manage."

To anyone thinking about joining to help with their own breathing difficulties, Davie says, jump in: "Don't be in any way shy or nervous. They're a great crowd and you'll very quickly see a difference. You don't have to be able to sing at all."