The MP for Bolsover used to sing to his late mother when she was diagnosed with the disease, and has carried on the tradition in a care home in Derbyshire
He’s probably most famous for being a fiery octogenarian politician with a penchant for heckling and antagonising the Tories (he’s notorious for heckling during the Queen’s speech each year).
However, it seems Dennis Skinner, 84, hides a softer side, too, particularly in the work he does to help the community. Mr Skinner regularly visits care homes in Derbyshire and sings to residents with dementia to boost their mood and help them recapture old memories.
Speaking to BBC Radio 2 presenter Jeremy Vine for a programme called Dennis Skinner vs Dementia, he says he got the idea after he started singing to his own mother, Lucy, who was diagnosed with dementia in the 1980s. His mother often sang while doing daily chores so when her memory started to fail, Mr Skinner sang classics by Gracie Fields or Vera Lynn. When his sister also developed dementia, he did the same for her.
Mr Skinner first developed a passion for music when he sang in a school choir, but he would also sing in clubs and pubs while working as a coal miner.
These days, he likes to visit the Shirevale Resource Centre in Shirebrook, Derbyshire, to sing classic songs to people there.
‘It does go back about 50 or 60 years which is important for classes like this to help with your memory and the rhythm of singing,’ he said. ‘I discovered this when my mother had dementia, and the result was I became enamoured by this place here.’
Mr Skinner says he’s spent the last eight years visiting the centre ‘when Parliament is not in session or when I’ve been kicked out’.
‘If there is something, a little bit, that we can do to enhance their lives… I know that they had a happier time as a result of all of the singing and the use of brain co-ordination with their feet and hands and all the rest of it. I know that those two and a half hours helped those people, those 20 odd people in that room.’
You can hear the whole of Dennis Skinner vs Dementia on BBC iPlayer Radio by clicking here.