The Cardiff ‘choir with no name’ sings out for people affected by homelessness
If you go down to Grangetown on a Tuesday night you may find yourself hearing the hearty singing of the Cardiff branch of the Choir with No Name (CWNN).
The choir is part of a growing network specifically set up to offer people affected by homelessness the chance to meet up, sing and have fun.
The aim is quite simple – the choirs meet once a week for a cuppa and a catch up, then they sing their hearts before sitting down together afterwards for a hot meal cooked by volunteers.
The Cardiff branch is coordinated by Suzy and choir leader Iori who lead the weekly meetings every Tuesday at St Pauls’ Community Hall, Paget Street in Grangetown.
The Choir with No Name was originally set up by Marie Benton in 2008. As an experienced choir leader herself she realised that there were few opportunities for people who may have been marginalised by experiences of homelessness to participate in more traditional choirs.
She set up the first CWNN in London on the premise that singing has a feel-good impact and offers a distraction from difficult times in life, while building confidence, skills and long-lasting friendships along the way.
Since then, the model of the choir has rolled out to Liverpool, Birmingham and Brighton. In November 2021 the latest branch opened in Cardiff in partnership with homeless support charity The Wallich.
Starting the choir amid the peaks and troughs of the pandemic has of course presented some difficulties, but by managing the risks attached to singing and taking it all in their stride, momentum has been steadily building.
Choir Coordinator, Suzy says that participants come from all ages and backgrounds, all with the lived experience of homelessness or other forms of marginalisation in common.
Some may now be well settled but have some experience of homelessness from years ago, whereas for others, who maybe living in hostels or dependent on friends for a roof over their heads, the experience is current and present in their daily lives.
The choir attracts a steady core of about seven or eight singers who attend regularly, with up to 24 participants who attend as circumstances allow.
There is no requirement to attend every week, and people are welcome whenever they can make it, and no singing experience is necessary as director Iori guides participants through the songs.
Although the choir is not a service, the team can signpost effectively to other services if required, and Suzy says that as it’s a safe and inclusive space, people often feel comfortable enough to talk about other needs they may have.
Suzy said: “We want it to be as accessible as possible, and people do not have to be referred, they can just turn up.”
“Sometimes the biggest hurdle is getting the courage up to walk through the door. Once that’s out of the way nearly everyone says they had a brilliant time.
“We start off with a cuppa and a chat, then start singing at 6.15. Then at 7.30 we all sit down together and have a hot meal, which is cooked by volunteers. It takes away the dilemma someone may face, having to choose between a hot meal somewhere or choir. This way they can do both.
“It’s a really nice intimate thing to do, to sit all together and eat and get to know each other better. It’s a great way of decompressing after the practice, and the week, and it really helps to build a sense of community.”
Time after time
Together they sing popular, accessible tunes, drawn from all sorts of genres with pop and rock songs from the 60s and 70s, and songs from musical theatre proving very popular among the choristers.
Recent arrangements include Dolly Parton’s Put a little love in your heart, Thank you for the music by Abba, This is Me from the Greatest Showman, and Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time
The choir’s first gig was at Waterstones in Cardiff where they performed for the event ‘In conversation with Jo Browning Wroe’, author of A Terrible Kindness in which a ‘choir with no name’ features at a significant time of the protagonist William’s story.
Tweeting her appreciation of the choir’s rendition of Time After Time, Jo Browning Wroe thanked the choir for making the evening so special.
Service spotlight – @CWNNCardiff
Last week, the choir had their very first performance at a book event in @WaterstonesCDF
We are so proud of you all 👏🏻
— The Wallich (@TheWallich) March 10, 2022
Suzy says that the event was perfect as the participants felt like they had something significant and valuable to contribute to a cultural event, but without the potential pressures of performing in a more formal environment.
Pointing to the benefits to wellbeing, confidence and community building being part of a choir can bring, Suzy says that there can be many pleasant surprises within the group. She said: “People have amazing voices, and I’m always impressed with what happens when they sing.
“What is most amazing though, is seeing people grow in confidence as the time goes on. They may have started off sitting at the back almost mouthing the words, but after a while might be the loudest voice in the front section.”
The choir’s next gig will be on 14 May at Refugee Rhythms organised by Student Action for Refugees at the Oasis Centre on Splott Road Cardiff.
More details about the choir and how to get involved can be found here
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