Ever wondered why you feel so good after belting out Bohemian Rhapsody in the shower, or why duetting Islands in the Stream with your buddies 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 it's doors to people affected by homelessness, we've seen over and over again the remarkable impact singing together can have on the lives of our members.
It is well documented that the act of singing brings with it a whole raft of benefits to health and wellbeing, and singing in a choir has even more to offer participants. It is one of the most effective ways to form social bonds and is undeniably one of the most enjoyable and uplifting group activities you can do. A research study conducted by Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust and Oxford Brookes University that looked into whether singing in a choir leads to greater psychological benefits than team sports or solo singing, found that singing with others led to stronger social cohesion and greater increase in wellbeing than sports or singing alone. And the benefits don't stop there. Previous studies have also found that singing releases 'happy hormones' believed to lower stress levels and blood pressure, it is claimed to also alleviate the symptoms of Parkinson's, depression and lung disease. A year long study by the Sydney de Hann Research Centre for Arts and Health at Canterbury University researching the effects of community singing, found that participants had markedly less mental health distress a year after joining the study. In a nut shell, singing together is a very good thing.
At The Choir with No Name, we run choirs for people who've experienced homelessness or who are otherwise marginalised. Our choirs in London, Liverpool and Birmingham rehearse once a week, and sit down together afterwards for a free hot meal together. We perform at a wide variety of venues across the country, which has recently included The Royal Festival Hall, St Georges Hall Liverpool and Brighton Dome, as a well as offering outreach workshops at homeless day centres, hostels and services for people at risk of homelessness.
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 mental health issues, relationship breakdown and bereavement, alcohol and drug addiction, 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. 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 simply leave their troubles at the door once a week. They start to feel better about themselves, gain a sense of identity, and are then more able to take on life's other challenges - such as enrolling in rehabilitation 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 is 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 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 in Maida Vale, graduating from House of St Barnabus Employment Academy, a place on a web design course, counselling for my depression and 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 to do it, 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.'
To celebrate the power of singing together to change lives, we have launched All Together Now! 2017.
We want to show the world how wonderful singing together can be, and raise enough money to ensure that we can continue to offer life changing support to people affected by homelessness for years to come.
We are calling on choirs and vocal groups across the country to put on an All Together Now! fundraising event for us this Spring. Choir concerts, 'Come and Sing' events, sing-a-thons, karaoke parties, open mic nights - you name it - if it involves people coming together to sing, then it gets a thumbs up from us.
Our choirs genuinely change the lives of people who've experienced homelessness, so we are working hard to raise enough money to make sure they can continue to sing loud and proud long into the future. We are really excited about getting people together to celebrate the power of communal singing for a fantastic cause, and hope that loads of choirs will be part of that celebration with us.
So, if you sing in a choir, or just enjoy singing in the shower, why not get together, sing your hearts out and be part of something SINGsational this new year...