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One Day at a Time - Sylvia’s story

Sylvia in her various operatic roles

Published on 08 April 2024 08:08 PM

Sylvia McCafferty was born in Wallsend on the 2nd of May 1936 to her parents, James and Catherine. Sylvia was the eldest of five. Sylvia loves to sing and has an early memory where she visited the local shop with her mother. She sang for the shopkeeper who rewarded her with a bag of sweets. At the age of 12, Sylvia attended Walker R C Catholic School and can remember being on the roof and the teacher asking her to come down. From there she sang ‘Bless This House, O Lord We Pray’, and that was the start of the singing.

Sylvia joined the Army and went on to sing in the club for the Troops, and she talked about how her table would be full of drinks bought for her. In her twenties, Sylvia started to sing in the working men’s clubs.

Sylvia met her husband, Tom Blackman, during a blind date in Tynemouth. They used to attend St Anthony of Padua in Walker every Sunday where Sylvia sang in the choir. Whilst reading the local paper, Tom noticed an advertisement for auditions for opera singers and encouraged Sylvia to apply, which she did. She attended an audition in Westerhope where she can recall a big line of judges and a grand piano. She was then asked what opera she would like to sing but she didn’t know any and ended up singing ‘The Gloria’ in Latin.

That day, Sylvia was entered immediately into the Northern Opera and arrangements were made for her to attend the Theatre Royal in Newcastle. Sylvia learnt the operas and couldn’t wait to get on the stage, she said she had no nerves and just adrenaline to get out there and perform.

Sylvia had a full-time job for 25 years as an amateur singer with Northern Opera and would spend four to five months rehearsing for each show. Some of her favourite performances included Samson and Delilah, and Carmen. Tom worked at Swan Hunter shipyards, and between them they also owned two fish and chip shops, ‘The Avenue Chippy’.

Sadly, in Tom’s early 70s, he was diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia along with Parkinson’s to add to his list of health issues. Sylvia became his carer and cared for him for three years with the support of the Admiral Nurses and Age UK North Tyneside.

She remembers watching as he slowly subsided in himself and, if this wasn’t enough, during the COVID-19 pandemic, he was admitted to Battle Hill Care Home where Sylvia was unable to visit. Sylvia remembers speaking to
him through a glass window.

On the 30th of April 2022, Tom passed away.

Sylvia remained in touch with members of Age UK North Tyneside after the funeral and was informed of our Singalong Memories group which takes place on a Monday at St Columba’s Church in North Shields. The group is stimulating and enjoyable for people living with dementia and their families, and Sylvia jumped at the opportunity to attend and perform.

She has now been attending for a few years and each week performs for the group singing songs such as ‘Waiting at the Church’ and ‘Nasty Black Eye’ which always bring out such a great response from the members as they did her audiences.

Videos of Sylvia’s performances have also been shared on social media, with her performance of ‘One Day at a Time’ receiving over 280,000 views and over 34,000 likes on TikTok. Everyone loves to hear Sylvia sing as it brings memories back for them, and her voice is incredible still to this day.

Sylvia says she wouldn’t miss the group for the world and, until recently, would get two buses to the venue as she loves everyone there and can relate to what the carers are going through. Whilst attending the group, Sylvia has made lots of new friends.

After a recent fall, she now receives a lift to and from the group which she is incredibly grateful for.

Sylvia visits Blackpool yearly and after each trip returns with a big bag full of rock for the group.Sylvia would like to thank the Admiral Nursing Team for all their support and the Dementia Coordinators who have now become true friends, not forgetting our Information & Advice team who have supported Sylvia recently to obtain her Blue Badge.

Sylvia says, “Take ‘One Day at a Time’ and that’s all you can do.”


In loving memory of Tom Blackman.