People with experience of homelessness, adverse mental health and substance misuse conditions are singing out for recovery, togetherness and wellbeing at a new choir in Wrexham.
The Wrexham One Love Choir harnesses the uplifting and therapeutic power of song to help people develop confidence and self-esteem, fulfilment and purpose.
It’s thought the group is one of the first community choirs of its kind in Wales and has already carried out high-profile gigs at Moneypenny and in front of shoppers in Queen’s Square.
Members like 45-year-old Mark Magee say the singing group has become “like a family” for many of its members, “I like the company and how all the people mix, and it’s good that they can come here and join in,” he said.
“I say it’s like a family here – and it really does feel like that. People come, do something together, join in and can always talk to someone if they need to. It’s like an outlet.
“The singing helps people to build confidence and allows them to let their problems out. It helps them stay calm and feel more relaxed, and gives them a group of people they can trust.”
Lliona Jones (47) was a newcomer to singing, but has only missed one practice since the initiative began – and said she had taken enormous satisfaction from performing in front of an audience.
“The choir helps to keep everyone going and help to keep them focussed,” she said. “I love it! I know that there are people at the choir I can go to.
“I was really nervous at first before the concert at Moneypenny and trying to sort everything out, but we got through and now we know that we can do it.”
The choir was developed by Wrexham MP Ian Lucas following the success of the first Wrexham Singing Streets festival in 2016. He brought members of Gateway Church and charity leaders in Wrexham together with The Choir with No Name, a charity which run choirs for homeless and marginalised people in London, Liverpool, Birmingham and Brighton.
It says 76% of people report improved mental health as a result of singing with one of its choirs, while 79% said attending practices had helped them take up volunteering roles, find employment or secure housing.
Mr Lucas said the Wrexham sessions, held at Trinity Church from 11am each Wednesday, were uplifting and exhilarating for participants, “It is well known that singing is of enormous therapeutic benefit, so it’s wonderful to see those benefits being realised through this fantastic project here in Wrexham,” he said.
“When we hosted the first Singing Streets festival, we were struck by how members of the town’s homeless community wanted to join in with many of the choirs who were performing – so we decided to explore opportunities to develop a group specifically to allow vulnerable and marginalised people in Wrexham to enjoy singing together.
“We’re indebted to The Choir With No Name for working with us and sharing their approach so generously, and to our other partners for helping making the Wrexham One Love Choir a reality. It was really fantastic to see the Wrexham One Love Choir joining the programme for the Singing Streets festival in September 2018, with the support of members of the group from Liverpool.”
One Love choir musical director James Sills said the benefits of communal singing to wellbeing were now well understood and widely recognised.
“Singing is one of the most positive things that we can do together – it helps build community and wellbeing, and it provides a way in which we all work together and listen to each other with a shared goal and a sense of purpose and belonging,” he said.
“That’s something we all need as human beings – and it is something which is in danger of being lost. Singing fulfils a very basic need to come together, celebrate and share.”
The Wrexham One Love Choir is hosted by recovery charity CAIS, and is now part of The Choir With No Name family. The initiative has benefitted from funding support from Wrexham County Borough Council, Wrexham Glyndwr University and Clwyd Alun Housing Association, and in-kind support from HMP Berwyn and the Wrexham Community Choir.
CAIS partnerships manager Steve Campbell said he was thrilled to play a small part in delivering a creative project for some of Wrexham’s most vulnerable and marginalised people.
“Last year, with support from Shelter and other partners, our Wrexham Homelessness Prevention Project helped 44 people into new secure accommodation and prevented more than 100 from becoming homeless in the first place,” he said.
“So we’re pleased to host the Wrexham One Love Choir, and to use singing to continue to support people as they move through their journey of recovery.”
Wrexham One Love Choir rehearses at Trinity Church from 11am each Wednesday – with all practices followed by a communal hot lunch. For more information, please email email@example.com, call 01978 314 314 or visit www.cais.co.uk/onelovechoir.
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