Rachel Clare introduces the UK-based choral charity working with people affected by homelessness
Ever wondered why you feel so good after belting out Bohemian Rhapsody or why hitting the high notes alongside your choir colleagues leaves you grinning from ear to ear? It’s because singing is really good for you and over the past nine years since The Choir with No Name first opened its doors to people affected by homelessness, we’ve seen first-hand the remarkable impact singing together can have on the lives of our members.
The Choir with No Name is a small charity running choirs for people who’ve experienced homelessness and marginalisation in London, Liverpool and Birmingham (with plans to expand across the UK in years to come). We rehearse once a week and sit down together afterwards for a hot meal. Our choirs are free, with no audition, and are therefore 100% accessible to anyone who needs a place to belong, regardless of circumstances. We perform at a wide variety of venues across the country, including the Royal Festival Hall, Birmingham Symphony Hall and Brighton Dome – we even sang for the Duke of Cambridge at London’s Guildhall! We also run outreach singing workshops at homeless day centres, hostels and services for people at risk of homelessness such as refugees and vulnerable women or those with mental health problems and addictions.
The reasons why someone might become homeless and the challenges they face once in that position are about much more than a lack of housing. People often have a range of additional challenges, including relationship breakdown and bereavement, substance dependency and, even when rehoused, they may feel alone and socially isolated. This is where our choirs come in.
Joining The Choir with No Name can be the first step towards building enough self-confidence to get back on their feet and away from homelessness long-term. Through being part of a supportive choir community and singing with others, members’ beliefs about their capabilities are fundamentally challenged and changed. They get to experience the myriad health benefits of singing together as well as an opportunity to develop new skills, make genuine, lifelong friendships, have fun and leave their troubles at the door once a week. They start to feel better about themselves, regain a sense of self-worth and are then more able to take on life’s other challenges – such as enrolling in recovery services, living independently, getting involved with community life and engaging with education or employment. The Choir with No Name’s members often describe our choirs as ‘family’. It’s so much more than just a group of people coming together once a week to sing – they are also a life-changing support network and a huge catalyst for positive change.
Ronnie was a member of our North London choir:
‘I’ve been coming to The Choir with No Name on and off for a few years now. I’d never sung in a choir before so I had no expectations but from the moment I walked in, everyone was so warm and welcoming. It was a really great place to go and not be judged, where everyone looked you in the eye and actually treated you like a human. The crucial thing is that singing makes you feel good. No matter how bad your week’s been, you go to choir, have a sing and you feel better. It gives you something to look forward to.
‘Last year, things had got pretty desperate. I was sleeping rough and then moved into a notorious hostel barely fit for human habitation. I’ve had depression all my life so I was at my lowest point at that time. It was the worst year of my life but I made it and The Choir with No Name was a large part of that.
‘In the space of a year, I have gone from a desperate situation that I saw no way out of to living in my own flat, graduating from House of St Barnabus Employment Academy, receiving counselling for my depression with a future ahead of me. I owe a lot of that to The Choir with No Name for giving me the confidence, belief and opportunity as well as the support and friendship from the people I have met there. My life has changed beyond recognition. Every day, I wake up and pinch myself.
‘When you’re homeless, so much of what you experience strips you of your dignity. The Choir with No Name gave me hope and optimism. It gave me my dignity back.’
About the author
Rachel Clare is Fundraising & Communications Manager at homeless choir charity, The Choir with No Name, which runs choirs for homeless and marginalised people in the UK.
She has sung all her life and can’t imagine a more inspiring and hopeful organisation to be involved with!