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Choir with No Name: "When the City Harvest van comes it’s like the sun coming out”

City Harvest's Head of Charity Development Tay Motl, joined by our team photographer, Agnè, reports from an evening of uplifting music and a great meal:

Every Thursday evening the Choir with No Name London meets at 6.30pm for an evening of chat, singing and a delicious meal cooked by a team of volunteers for up to 70 choir members. Founded 11 years ago the Choir with No Name runs choirs across the country for people affected by homelessness and marginalisation. I was lucky enough to go along to the London choir recently, join in with the singing, meet lots of the members and volunteers and share a super tasty meal.

I was met at the door by Gemma, a volunteer, and Anoushka, the general manager of the charity, who both made me feel very welcome. Gemma is part of a team of 24 volunteers who take turns meeting and greeting at the front of house, cooking and serving up the meal and helping out with the choir. We sat down with a cup of tea whilst she told me all about the choir. She explained that the choir is open to anybody who wishes to come but that the majority of members are affected by homelessness in one way or another.

The evening kicks off with hot drinks and biscuits and everyone gets to catch up and have a chat before the singing session starts. After the refreshments, everyone makes their way upstairs where they are met by the choir director Sam. The singing session begins with a warm up led by Sam with an emphasis on positive posture, breathing and a voice warm up which gets everyone relaxed and ready to sing. The choir is split into sections with soprano, alto, tenors and bass. I figured I was probably an alto so found myself a seat, grabbed a song sheet and joined in as best I could.

The singing from the choir was beautiful and so uplifting. The members of the choir encouraged me with smiles and thumbs up. I felt very privileged to be able to join in with such a great group of singers.

The choir director Sam was so encouraging and maintained the energy in the room throughout the session. We worked on three different songs and by 8.30pm everyone was ready for some dinner.

Using food from City Harvest, the clever team of volunteers, on this occasion led by James, had prepared a sweetcorn chowder, a beautiful salad and a hot melting cheese toastie on the side. They had also made a vegan version, so no-one is left out. One of the choir members, Stef, invited me to join him and shared that the food offered is always good with different meals each week.

Gemma told me “With the food that City Harvest brings, we are able to cook meals that are really special. We were having a curry a few weeks ago and Paula at your depot sent us lots of poppadum's and extras that made it a real treat for the members. Anything we have left at the end, the members can take home with them.

I asked Gemma how you become a member of the choir. She explained that you don’t need to register, you don’t need ID, there is no fee and anyone is welcome.I met lots of the choir members and asked some of them what coming to the choir means to them.

Paul explained to me that he had gotten into trouble with his rent when his benefits were cut and a change in his tenancy left him vulnerable. The vital support services that he needed were stopped due to funding cuts by the local authority. “I was at my lowest ebb, I needed an outlet as I was in a very dark place. Coming here is a lifeline. They’re a very jolly crowd and I’ve made some good friends. Coming here takes me away from difficult times. The food is absolutely marvellous. There is so much life, so much enthusiasm. When the City Harvest van comes it’s like the sun coming out”

Sarah has been coming to the choir since December. She used to be a midwife but ended up having to be a full-time carer. “I was a carer for my partner before he died. I wasn’t mixing or going out. Coming here has given me my confidence back. I still get anxious and it takes me an hour to get here, so I have to co-ordinate before I leave and get ready in time. I chat to most people and have friends here. We have great opportunities. We recently sang at the Royal Festival Hall in front of over 2000 people” she giggles. “I had a solo but I didn’t think about it before because I would get nervous” . Sarah told me that she loves the food provided and brings a tub with her so she can take some food home as she doesn’t cook for herself very much.

I had such a great time with everyone at the choir and am so happy to see that the food City Harvest donates is playing a part in such an inspirational project. The volunteers and staff do an amazing job and it was great to meet some of them and see them in action. Thanks to all at the Choir with No Name for having an extra member for that evening, if you’ll have me I will definitely be back to share your good vibes soon!

‘Choir with No Name London is run in partnership with Look Ahead. Find out more at www.choirwithnoname.org

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