Somerset Stories: Shepton Mallet Ukulele Group

SMUG has rapidly evolved from one ukulele enthusiast into a group that both plays to and exists for the community.

Chairman Ray Smith told us how important the group is for local people living with dementia and how the group has helped give members a sense of purpose.

“Shepton Mallet Ukulele Group – or SMUG, as we’re known, started in 2018. The ukulele is such a wonderful instrument, and I thought it would be a good idea to start up lessons with a small group of local people. So using the power of social media I advertised locally and people responded! We practised for about six months before we did our first performance at the Shepton Mallet Christmas Market and in 2019 we performed at 11 events, which is pretty good going. There are 19 of us now.

We’ve played at community events such as Collett Park Day, Shepton Lantern Festival and Christmas markets, and village, school and church fetes, as well as day care centres, residential homes and doctor’s surgeries. A group called Music Connect also got in touch with us – they organise local get togethers for people living with dementia, as it’s well known that people with dementia respond positively to music. I think it’s really important to help people in need in your community, especially the elderly, if you can; it’s a simple thing to be able to enhance their lives. We’re looking forward to doing a lot more of that after the pandemic situation is resolved.

The problem we had was that the ukulele is an acoustic instrument and at a lot of the open air community events where we were performing the sound was being carried on the wind. Our grant from The Somerset Fund was for an amplifier and a couple of microphones, microphone stands and cables so that we could improve our sound levels at these events.

We’re an adult group but we’re fully inclusive. We play to the community and the group exists for the community to get involved – if they want to. When we first started up a local chap joined us who had recently lost his wife. He told us how much he loved attending the group on a weekly basis, and how the group gave him a sense of purpose.

Our plan, once we’re able to, is to grow the group and continue to offer lessons so that more people can join. We still meet via Zoom at the moment, but it’ll be great when we can meet in person once more. We’re hoping we’ll be able to soon – fingers crossed!

As a group we’re self-funded with annual membership and group fees. Without The Somerset Fund grant we wouldn’t be able to improve our offer to the community. We’re extremely grateful for the grant – it’s just been invaluable to us.”


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