What’s is Choir with No Name’s mission?
Our mission is to enable as many homeless and marginalised people as possible to beat loneliness and build their confidence and skills through singing. Our vision is that all people have a place they belong, where they can sing their hearts out!
How did you get started?
Our first choir was founded in 2008 in North London, I was then a professional musician and also a senior project worker at homeless accommodation provider St Mungo’s. From my experience of both the health and social benefits of singing in a choir – and the obvious isolation of many homeless people – I felt it was a vital service that was not being provided anywhere else. And so the first Choir with No Name was born. Since then, we’ve added choirs in London, Birmingham and Liverpool, with a new choir launching in Brighton later this year.
What type of activities do you do?
What a Choir with No Name does is really simple. Our choirs meet once a week to sing and then sit down together for a hot meal afterwards. Singing makes you feel good, and singing with others is the best way to build genuine, long lasting friendships. Eating together then cements that sense of community, and our choirs fast become a family for members who may not have that kind of support in their lives.
Relationship breakdown is one of the most common reasons why someone might become homeless. So, the opportunity to make friends, leave troubles at the door and have fun can be a vital lifeline for some of the most isolated and vulnerable members of the community.
We perform regularly at a huge variety of venues. This might be performances that help our members feel they are giving something back to society, such as at older people’s services. Other instances might be aspirational gigs at world class venues which give everyone something to look forward to!
“Singing in front of an appreciative audience can be a powerful, positive experience for members, and it can restore a sense of self-worth and pride they may have lost.”
Highlights recently include our Big Christmas Singalong at the Brighton Dome, and of course performing at the Octopus summer offsite last year! We also host outreach singing workshops for people at risk of homelessness, such as those with mental health issues, addictions or refugees, as a soft introduction to communal singing. Last year we worked with 795 homeless and marginalised people through our choirs and workshops.
How will Octopus Giving make a difference to the work you do?
As a small charity, having the support of Octopus Giving will have a huge impact on what we are able to achieve over the next three years. We will use the funding to support the essential costs we struggle to raise elsewhere; our core costs (including staff time for our general manager and our fundraising and communications manager).
Octopus Giving’s support of Choir with No Name means we can continue the vital work we do. This includes supporting regular rehearsals, performances and outreach workshops, working with 1,700 homeless people over the next three years.
It also means that we can make our existing choirs more sustainable by establishing partnerships with homeless sector organisations to take on the administrative side of running each choir. This allows us to concentrate on what we do best, the music! As well as launching the new partnership-based choir in Brighton, we’re also planning the roll-out of future choirs across the country. These will enable us to work with more and more people affected by homelessness in the UK.
What one thing would get you closer to achieving your mission?
We dream of one day having our choirs wherever there is a need, from inner cities to rural communities. This way everyone has a place they belong. It’s an ambitious plan, which will take a lot more resources than we have currently. We are beginning to build plans for a more easily scalable model of choir, but we’re at the very beginning of that journey. Someone who can help us make practical and detailed plans about how to scale our work in a sustainable way would help us along that journey significantly.
What are you working on right now?
This is going to be a big year for The Choir with No Name. Not only do we turn ten years old, with lots of exciting birthday events planned (an album might be in the offing – watch this space!) but we are merging our two London choirs into one ‘superchoir’ and launching in Brighton. There are exciting times ahead and we are thrilled that Octopus is coming along for the ride!
What things do you worry about?
With homelessness rising dramatically in the UK, we worry about our members, new and old, and the increased need for services such as ours. As a small charity, raising enough money to keep our choirs singing and the music playing is always a challenge. This challenge is particularly felt when need is on the rise, and the competition for shrinking pots of money gets fiercer every year. However, as a small, agile organisation that embraces change, we tackle these challenges with energy and creativity. It helps us ensure we’re able to weather the storms and continue to offer vital respite for some of the most vulnerable people.
What are you most proud of?
Our choir members, without a doubt. The courage, strength and resilience shown by our members every week never fails to humble and inspire. To see the change in members from their first rehearsal, where they are often unsure of themselves and self-conscious, to singing their first solo on stage and receiving a standing ovation makes us very proud indeed. Brings a joyful tear to the eye!
What makes you positive about the future?
Knowing that there are so many generous people out there willing to give their precious time and money to support a small charity like ours is amazing. There is hope out there as long as there are people willing to help others who are less fortunate.
Our volunteers and supporters (including you wonderful lot at Octopus!), are the backbone of Choir with No Name, and we certainly wouldn’t be here today without that kind of support. The news can often become overwhelming and you feel helpless to do anything about global issues. Looking locally and finding small acts of kindness that can make a big difference on an individual level can be life changing – and we see that kind of support every day.
How can people get involved?
We are always on the lookout for people willing to offer their time and expertise to help us. We have a central team of just three people. So support with marketing, IT, design, digital, fundraising, business support, or other things we haven’t even thought of yet, could make a huge difference. We are also in need of energetic folk who are willing to shake buckets at fundraisers and gigs, with big smiles on their faces!
Our weekly rehearsals are supported by volunteers who serve tea and biscuits, prepare and serve the hot meal (as well as clean up afterwards) and generally support members. We also have volunteers who help members with the musical side of things in rehearsals and at gigs.
In London, we are lucky enough to currently have a waiting list for regular rehearsal volunteers. But if you’re up for rolling up your sleeves and getting stuck in chopping veg, then please sign up to the list and we’ll be in touch soon. Alternatively, if you have a sideline as a pianist or guitarist, or you’re a strong singer, we might well be after you straight away…