GUEST BLOG: 100 Days of Our Choirs in Lockdown

Our communications and operations officer, Hayley has written us this guest blog recapping all the things our team has been doing to keep our choirs, singing, safe and connected throughout lockdown.

Over to you Hayley…

Today, as I write this it’s our 100th day of lockdown. Three months ago, this milestone was unfathomable. Yet, queueing for loo roll, clapping for carers and learning to sew reusable masks have become our new normal.

For the Choir with No Name and our members this new normal hasn’t been easy. The past 100 days have seen us facing issues we’d never dreamt of having to deal with as an organisation. But we’ve dug deep, worked hard, made changes, stayed connected - and most importantly we’ve kept singing.

During this pandemic everyone on team CWNN has had to adapt, step into new roles and ultimately step up to keep our choir family connected.

At CWNN we’re incredibly lucky to have an army of dedicated volunteers. So, it was them, led by our tireless choir managers, who gladly traded in their culinary skills from cooking at our rehearsals, for becoming phone call companions for our members. And, it’s no exaggeration to say that during this time our volunteer phone calls have become real lifelines.

You are the only people who I have spoken to since lockdown began. I am so grateful for Choir with No Name.

- Andrew, a Birmingham choir member

We also set up private Facebook groups for each choir. Not everyone wanted to chat on the phone, and these groups gave us all an informal way to stay in touch - and share many many memes…

For those members not online, we produced postal newsletters full of musical activities, quizzes and jokes to keep members engaged and entertained. They have included some brilliant content and spectacular jokes, from our members and choir directors, making our choirs feel more joined up across the country than ever before.

Thank you for the newsletter, to read it was wonderful. I also enjoyed the video and the very up lifting jokes.

- Marie, a Liverpool choir member

Next, our choir directors switched to hosting live rehearsals for sessions over Zoom. Quickly adapting to dreaded internet lag (ever the online choir’s nemesis) and discovering the beauty of the ‘mute all’ button; allowing us all to sing like nobody’s listening (because nobody is!)

The virtual choir rehearsals are so helping my mental health; I look forward to Monday eves so much. It’s not just a choir it's a real sense of community.

- Isla, a Brighton choir member

But not everyone could join in. Lockdown has thrown a harsh light on the issue of digital exclusion, not just among our members, but within the homeless community as a whole. Only around 20% of our members were able to join us on zoom each week, with the majority of members lacking the device, data, WIFI access and tech skills to get online. Our volunteers and choir managers helped everyone they could and gradually the numbers crept up. But it wasn’t enough.  

It was now clear our most important project in lockdown would be a huge drive towards digital inclusion. This is something we’re still working on, but ultimately the aim is to give all members who want to be online the means to do so. For this we’ve secured funding for devices, sim cards, data, training and support to make sure choir members are no longer digitally isolated.

Not only does this mean they’ll be able to join our rehearsals to sing their hearts out and, enjoy the jokes whizzing around in our Facebook groups, but also that they'll gain skills and access to apply for housing, benefits and work. As well as staying connected or reconnecting with friends and family well beyond lockdown. We believe this is our most empowering project to date.

Nothing can substitute the feeling of standing shoulder to shoulder and singing together. Or sitting down to eat a meal as a giant family at the end of the day. And, there’s definitely no digital substitute for that feeling of pride from a standing ovation. But today our choir family is still standing strong and staying connected.

As we slowly and cautiously move out of lockdown, with our new digital inclusion project in the works, it’s safe to say we’re excited for what the next 100 days will bring.

But for now, from our screen to yours, stay safe and keep singing.