Blog | Include.org

There is no magic wand!

I first found out about The Include Choir by word of mouth, from my friend Hannah. She recommended it to me because she knows I enjoy fun things and singing takes your mind off your worries.

When I came along, I found that everyone is very friendly, this group does not separate out one type of person from another.

If people have autism or mental health needs etc they are accepted. Everyone is accepted for who they are.

I decided to Run Reigate to represent Include.org and help raise money for the charity and its work. It is the first time I have done a race to raise money.

My journey to doing this half marathon was a long one! It has taken me a few years to get here.

There is no magic wand – I had to put the graft in!

I was very good at running when I was in college, but I stopped doing it and wasn’t even able to do a 5K at first. What got me back into running was seeing my friends Tina and Andrew, who I met at the Prospero Theatre group, doing so much running. Tina did the London Marathon and Andrew is training to do an Ultra marathon which is 50miles and also a 100mile race – they have inspired me and helped to coach me.

Once I could do a 5K comfortably, I gradually built up from there to a 6K and 7K and so on. Over the last 2 or 3 years I have got better and better at it. It goes to show that if your body is healthy enough you can do it.

I will never be like Mo Farah winning gold – but I still love it and for me it’s more about the journey than getting a gold medal.

Run Reigate was actually my 3rd half marathon! I did Denbies and Woldingham, and for those I had never run that far before (and not with so many hills), but once I got to 12 miles I just pushed myself that extra bit to get to the end.

I feel I haven’t achieved a lot since my college days – but I was ready to take on my next challenge and fundraising for a great cause like Include.org has made me feel like I have achieved a lot. It is a super feeling to help the choir – not just running for myself. 

The day of Run Reigate didn’t go completely smoothly for me! I was going to get a lift there but the person who offered forgot and so I was then running late and had to drive myself there. I was still in Redhill at 9am and my race started at 9.15am in Reigate! When I finally arrived, I had to jump over the railings to get to the start line on time! I had my backpack on too – but it had my water in it and I knew I would be glad to have that.

There was a good vibe at Run Reigate. I enjoyed seeing everyone – some people also running spoke to me. They reassured me when I had to stop for a comfort break that I wasn’t the only one to need to do that!

It’s not just the running but the people, the stalls, the music – that’s the reward after the run!

The weather was also good and I enjoyed exploring parts of the countryside of Reigate and Horley that I wouldn’t normally see.

And finally, it was great to see the finish line ahead! 

The Include Run Reigate fundraiser is still going. Please donate here: Team fundraiser – Run Reigate Include.org Team (peoplesfundraising.com)

Penny Sims
Penny Sims
Inclusive Communications Manager

The Run Reigate Journey

On 27 July some of The Include Choir went along to the Run Reigate Run Club in Priory Park – led by Jas Dhanda from Reigate Priory Athletic Club.

While the runners were put through their paces, we sang and signed some running themed songs like Don’t Stop me Now.

Seeing the runners prepare mentally as well as physically took me back to my 2019 Run Reigate journey. It was before the world-changing events of Covid19, but after some fairly significant events in my own life.

It was the first time I had run more than a few kilometres since breaking my back and neck.

In 2010 I fractured my spine in 7 places, and broke my shoulder, hip and hand when somebody opened their car door into the road as I was approaching on my motorbike.

Thanks to a good quality bike helmet I was incredibly lucky to avoid a brain injury.

When I think how close I came to experiencing the sorts of understanding or speaking difficulties that Include.org tries to tackle, I get a shiver down my (now mended) spine.

I spent 3 months in a rigid brace and it was another 6 months before I could return to work.

If someone had told me then that I would complete Run Reigate’s 10k run, I would have thought they were joking!

I felt so lucky to be able to take part.

At Parallel London in 2017 one of our members David not only performed with The Include Choir, singing and playing the drum – he also got the team’s fastest time at the event’s sensory 1k.

David has a visual impairment – but this didn’t affect his speed! This event, held at the Olympic Park in London, was a real memory maker for David and many of the rest of us.

Memories made for all the right reasons – feeling involved and able to shine.

We’re going to talk more with the Run Reigate organisers to look into the idea of a fully accessible sensory race in the future.

It’s not that everyone wants to aim for the longest distance, or the fastest time that makes events like Run Reigate or Parallel London truly bonding for the community. It’s creating a space for all the personal magic moments that happen along the way.

Sometimes these moments begin months before the day itself…

…The encouraging chat with a friend to enter, the training partner who meets for a morning run in the rain, facing a personal fear or anxiety, overcoming an injury, generous donations to a cause you care about, a way of remembering or honouring someone dear, being boosted by a cheer from the crowds, being offered a jelly baby by a random resident of one of the streets.

On the evening of the Run Reigate Run Club, a magic moment for me was when choir members Hannah and Lynette led the choir, while I turned around to include the runners in “Don’t Stop Me Now”.

In turn, the runners themselves joined in with enthusiasm, even after their gruelling training session!

On Sunday 18th September Include.org will help to create some magic moments at Run Reigate.

We have a stall in the event village, our inclusive choir will perform and we’ll raise awareness of inclusivity. Thank you to everyone who is already onboard.

If you are local, but not involved yet, could you help or just come and support us? Please let us know.

We can offer reduced fee places to runners who would like to raise money for our charity, and we’re hugely grateful for all fundraising efforts.

Find out more here .

Penny Sims
Penny Sims
Inclusive Communications Manager

How has life changed for people with learning disabilities?

This month, between the Platinum Jubilee and Learning Disability Week 2022, our Champions Group has been reflecting on how life has changed for people with learning disabilities during the Queen’s reign.

We also talked about what was going on for the royal family in each decade, memorable moments like when people walked on the moon – and chose a favourite song from each decade (like Don’t Stop Me Now from the 1970s). So, we hope this Easy Read will inspire you in many ways.

Here is the link to our audio version https://soundcloud.com/user-683393051-385203358/platinum-jubilee-special?utm_source=clipboard&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=social_sharing

But it might shock you too.

It’s hard to believe that in the 1950s, when Queen Elizabeth II first came to the throne it was common for children with learning disabilities to leave their families to live in ‘long-stay hospitals’ and attending school was not an option.

The Include Champions believe that access to education for all is important. Philip said that it was down to going to school that he has been able to get a job. David said he learned to speak French at college and Hannah cooks her own meals having learned in education. Three great examples.

People Making Change Happen

We celebrated some of the people who really helped to turn the tide and change the way society looks at disability.

Some of the first research into what is actually best for children with Learning Disabilities didn’t happen until 1950s! Joss rightly found this surprising “Are you joking?! That was the first piece of research ever to have been done?!”

In 1958 Professor Jack Tizard published his findings – the headline – children with Learning Disabilities should not be taken away from their families and would live better lives in the community.  

Then in 1964, the Jean Vanier invited two men with learning disabilities to live in his home rather than in a hospital – the first L’Arche Community home was set up in France. This paved the way for many more people with learning disabilities to return to the heart of their communities. Of Jean Vanier, Joss said “What a great bloke!”

Everyone Can Make A Change

We also talked about how in day-to-day life it’s sadly not just the people who do good things that we remember – we also often remember bad things that people say to us. The Champions Group started talking about how important it is to try to use words that are kind and respectful when talking about people, especially in the context of disability.

All that matters is that we are here and we are thinking about each other and we care.

Hannah summed the conversation up so well… “All people have different abilities anyway. We are all different. It doesn’t matter what we are, it doesn’t have to be perfect or anything, all that matters is that we are here and we are thinking about each other and we care and, plus we need to think about this really carefully.”

And that my friends, is inspiration for a future Easy Read about why words matter.

Penny Sims
Penny Sims
Inclusive Communications Manager

Something about The Include Choir

We have exciting developments here at Include.

This summer, very soon, we are launching a new choir!

We continue to build the original Include Choir (with rehearsals in Redhill), The Include Choir Online is still here too so people can join us on Zoom or Facebook live. If outdoors activity is more your thing, you can join our Stroll and Sign sessions…but right now we’re busy adding a new Include Choir group, which will rehearse in Epsom.

Both choirs will perform at community events and conferences in various locations across Surrey – and in other places like London. Not just in Redhill and Epsom.

You can find details of what is on and when on our website.

Easy Read – explaining about The Include Choir

As we start to introduce a whole new group of people to The Include Choir, we’ve been thinking about how we explain who we are and what we do to people who don’t know Include.org

To help with this, the Include Champions Group took a really close look at how we talk and write about Include. Even to the point of discussing if we use a capital G on the word group when we say Champion’s Group!

We double checked which of the accessible fonts is the most popular and we decided on Sofia Pro, because we like it and it is Dyslexia-friendly.

We also took great care to select the best photos and graphics to enhance our next FREE Easy Read which – you guessed it – is all about The Include Choir! An audio version is also available on soundcloud.

The things that make a big difference

Some people might think we’re “just a choir” – BUT a lot more goes into championing inclusive communication than just getting together to sing.

The little details that enhance inclusion and participation matter as much as the big steps forward – like launching a new choir. And without volunteers, none of this can happen – the big or the small.

We want to once again congratulate and thank our amazing volunteers who have been recognised as some of the very best with the MBE for volunteer groups – the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service!

If you would like to join or volunteer or have any questions or suggestions about the new choir or anything else, please let us know by commenting below, via our social media or emailing info@include.org

Penny Sims
Penny Sims
Inclusive Communications Manager

Not just a Choir

Include Choir member Joss shares his thoughts…

“I have been part of other choirs, and they tried and were nice – but it wasn’t like coming to Include. They weren’t doing anything particularly offensive, Include is just better!

Include people say “Hello” and treat me like my best friends treat me. We can be complete strangers – but when I’m around them, I feel I can walk.

I only get that feeling from my very, very, very close, and I mean very close friends.

Elsewhere, especially in the outside world, it’s not very like that. I just want to be with the Include guys every single day because they are accepting of me. Include are family to me.

Include is not just a choir – it’s not just saying right we are choir, join us, tick in the box and that’s it.

Include Choir and Alix decide day by day we’re actively going to include every single one of these people who are less included, and take the people who are totally on the margins of society and say look come and sing with us, you are not different in this room.

The D Word

I don’t look at myself as disabled.

Places like Include and people like Alix are just wonderful, they don’t see your disability. The Include Choir focus on the fact you can sing!

If you ask Alix about who Joss is she will say something like, “He is pretty good on a drum, he can talk the hind legs off a donkey, but I completely ignore the fact that he is disabled.”

I think about 90% of society you ask might say, “this kid is disabled” and only about 3% go “Actually he is a really nice guy,” and they don’t look at me as disabled.

Some people think that to understand me they have to put this costume or label on me, “This guy is disabled.” And it’s not until you throw it off yourself – you throw it off your body and you say look I am able – they have a moment when they just stop and they go, “Ah – he is a nice guy!” And that moment of realisation is the most beautiful thing, and I can see it happen all the time. From that day on they will never call me disabled again – which is really beautiful.

Teaching the World…

That fact that The Include Choir performs in public places is really something big.

By doing that we’re actively teaching the world that we are all the same, we are just made from slightly different clay – we are not really that different to each other – we all have faces, we all live on the same planet etc.

People at the college I go to know that just because you’re disabled it, doesn’t mean you can’t do X, Y and Z or you can’t live your life. But my college is in the middle of nowhere, so no one really knows about us and what we can do.

Include takes that one step further because it puts people like me in front of able-bodied people and goes, “Look this is what Joss can do,” and they go “Wow, he can do that, he is in a wheelchair.” And they put the two together and it changes their lives because they realise that, even though I’m ‘disabled’ I can do a whole load of things that they can do.

On My Terms

Someone at my college recently asked me “What do you think about the term disabled?”  I thought for a very long time and eventually I said, “It’s not me that gives me the term disabled, it’s society”. This resulted in an hour-long conversation about the term disability not being helpful. I would wipe that term out.

There are not many words that genuinely offend me, any swear word genuinely won’t offend me and won’t hurt me, but the term disabled does. It cuts me like a knife every time I hear it and it f***ing devastates me because it’s like, “stop putting me down, and raise me up”! 

So, I have stopped calling myself disabled and there are people where I live that might say differently-abled and I prefer that – it doesn’t chop off my legs. It says that your legs move in a slightly different way and let’s be open and accepting of that.

Bigger Than Acceptance

Include has really helped me because I have enormous amounts of frustration and incredible bouts of anger that seem to come out of nowhere because I have to have carers all of the time. At college I have about three carers.

At Include I have only really got one, Steven and that’s it. When Steven sits with the choir and joins in it feels like family and it feels like acceptance.

It’s almost bigger than acceptance – Include Choir feels rather more than a single person accepting my disability, it’s like getting a whole room of people to accept my disability all at once, all over the world and yet it’s in an hour-long choir session with an interval!

Sing it from the rooftops

People like me don’t have many chances to walk – but singing is like walking. I am very grateful.

Include songs are f***ing brilliant, genuine from the heart with powerful messages. “In My World” is so beautiful it really is, and every time I hear it, it elicits more of a response from me, I don’t know why and I don’t think I will ever know why! It’s a statement for mankind.

I also like “Kind Communication” – because it’s explaining what I have been talking about – I think people need to hear these songs in places other than YouTube. I think they should be on Spotify.

Eventually, I hope that there will be an Include Choir in every country because its attitude is so welcoming. If there were other Include Choirs it would be a better place, more peaceful with less segregation.

I don’t like segregation or war; I am a peaceful man. We need an Include Choir everywhere we can get one because it brings peace to the world.”

The good news Joss, is that this summer we will be starting up another Include Choir…watch this space.

Penny Sims
Penny Sims
Inclusive Communications Manager

Bumper Easter Easy Read

Our Include Champions were so inspired by spring and Easter, that the group’s ideas and have resulted in a whole pack of Free Easy Read resources, including a quiz!

Download the Easy Reads below and find the audio versions too. If you want to really test yourself look at the quiz first and the other things after!

Click to listen to the Quiz Questions and Answers

Click to listen to the Easter Story

Click to listen to the Fun Facts

From hot cross buns and the clocks changing, to Jesus’ disciples and daffodils…Ellie, Simon, Philip and Josh cover lots of themes that are relevant at this time of year!

Plus, our first ever Easy Read resource, which launched our free series last year, is all about Ramadan – so also very relevant this month.

Our Champions have plans to share these resources with their own networks, from support staff and friends, to arts and social groups.

Who could you share these Free Easy Read resources with?

Penny Sims
Penny Sims
Inclusive Communications Manager

Mindfulness

January can feel like a long month for many reasons.

January 2021 was a lockdown month, and so for some people, it felt even longer. When we were in lockdown, Include produced extra newsletters and ran more Zoom sessions. We tried to make the content helpful – things to help keep people included and happy – one of those things was mindfulness. Protecting our mental wellbeing is still very important.

This January, in our first Champions session of 2022, we talked about mindfulness again.

Our Champions sessions are where Include members get together on Zoom to discuss and share ideas about important topics like The Mental Capacity Act, or in this case Mindfulness.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is about taking the time to notice how you are. To connect your body, mind and senses. Sarah sums it up well;

“It’s ideas about how to help your moods. What to do if you feel low, stressed, or if you have anxiety or depression”.

Sarah also pointed out that the information that she has found about mindfulness is not always very easy to read. So that made it clear that a FREE Easy Read about Mindfulness is a good idea.

Do I need to try mindfulness?

We talked about how to tell if you might be stressed and need to take a bit of time to practice some mindfulness. When we are busy with life, we might not notice that we have become tense. The Champions came up with a list of indicators that may mean you need to slow down:

  • Muscles tight
  • Headache
  • Feeling anxious
  • Tummy ache
  • Panic attack
  • Shoulders up by your ears

Hannah said;

“Take time and listen to your body. You can do mindfulness every day, wherever you are. And it can help you to get a good night’s sleep.”

Ways to be mindful

In our session the Champions tried out a few mindfulness techniques such as taking a big yawn and stretch. And we were all silent of 30 seconds and took care to notice any sounds around us.

Philip and Simon noticed the sound of a plane flying nearby and their washing machine going. Josh noticed a train going past and Ellie heard her tap.

But practicing mindfulness doesn’t mean you have to be still and quiet – doing things like colouring, sewing, blowing bubbles or Lego are also good ways to be calm and focussed.

Listening to music can be good too – you might like to see our B is for bubbles song on YouTube combining music and bubbles!?

Our Champions have some brilliant suggestion for apps that can also help with mindfulness – Headspace was recommended by Sarah, and Happy Colours by Philip. There is more information inside the FREE Easy Read resource.

FREE Audio version

Penny Sims
Penny Sims
Inclusive Communications Manager

Feeling Thankful

To help express our gratitude for the Big Give Christmas Challenge 2021 donations to include.org we’ve dedicated our next Free Easy Read resource to the theme of festive thankfulness.

A Big, Big Give Thank you

We’re celebrating the fantastic response to our Big Give Christmas Challenge fundraiser! We managed to raise over £20,000! What an incredible act of collective kindness this is, despite the ongoing challenges of Covid, and other pressures at this time of year.

SO much kindness. We’re blown away! This funding will enable Include to do so much more. Wishes can come true!

Free Easy Read

To help express our gratitude we’ve dedicated our next Free Easy Read resource to the theme of thankfulness.

An audio / sensory version will be shared here too very soon (sorry for the slight delay)

The download includes interesting facts, ideas and templates to create a thankfulness themed Christmas tree (or decorated plant!).

Did you know that research says that people who show gratitude are often healthier – both physically and mentally? And they even sleep better!

Things we’re thankful for

We asked some of our Include members, staff and volunteers what they are thankful for. Here is a taster of what we found…

Simon said he is thankful for his new baby nephew, friends and family. He and Philip also shared something they are both thankful for – the enjoyment of singing and dance. You can see them perform together here: https://youtu.be/hnv6rFGLsDw

Philip said that being thankful makes you feel happy; “it feels good in your mind”. Philip also said “I am grateful for my best friends and Include – the whole group – it means a lot to me and Simon”…”and I am also thankful for the birth of Jesus”.

Ellie said that she is thankful for her nephew, her family and another of her groups – Bloomin’ Arts https://bloominarts.org.uk/ where she performs in various shows.

She is grateful for her Complete Shakespeare book. Ellie also loves birthdays and her advent calendar!

The whole group had a shared thankfulness for good food. Penny is happy she has found some really good gluten-free mince pies.

Simon loves a roast. Ellie is looking forward to treating herself to some nice foods on her birthday.

Alix said that she is thankful for friends – old and new, as well as enjoying books and seeing festive lights.

Alix and Penny agreed they are both very thankful to all the wonderful volunteers who help Include all year round.

Jen said that she is grateful for friends, Include Choir, her parents and her plants. She has even decorated some of her plants!

We were all thankful for our Christmas decorations too. Josh did a great paper tree…

We talked about the fact that not everyone finds it easy to feel positive at Christmas time. Some people might miss loved ones or may not have a home. We are grateful if we can see loved ones and have a place to call home.

No matter who we are, or how we communicate we are often grateful for similar things.

Once again, from all of us here at Include, we want to say a great BIG thank you to everyone who supports us. The Big Give Christmas Challenge success in particular, will help us continue to build a more inclusive community in 2022.

Penny Sims
Penny Sims
Inclusive Communications Manager

Friends United

Philip and Simon have done quite a few things together over the years.

“We met at a college where we were supported to learn independence, shopping, cooking and budgeting.” They still live together today…

They are based a long way from Include’s HQ in Surrey…but have become a big part of the Include family. In fact, they’ve inspired a plan to combine Zoom sessions with Live sessions.

Included since Lockdown

Philip says; “Without Include the last year would have been boring – we love the whole group since we joined in lockdown….

We join in on my ipad through Zoom and Facebook two or three times a week. I even joined two of the Friday sessions from my Dad’s car when I was on my way home for the weekend! When we see Alix, it always makes me smile.”

Simon agrees; “We love singing and seeing everyone…my favourite is the Bumble Bee song – it makes me happy, and seeing Alix’s cat! We’d be sad without Include.”

In My World

Philip’s favourite song is In My World, which was written by choir member Louise.

“I sang In My World at my Nan’s big family 90th Birthday party – everyone came and when I sang my Nan cried happy tears,” says Philip.

Silver Linings

Alix Lewer, Include CEO adds; “Philip and Simon (among others) joining The Include Choir Online has been one of the great silver linings of the pandemic.

I can’t now imagine Facebook Live sessions without their supportive and positive input in the chat (and of course – the requests for the Chicken Curry Warm Up, In My World & Dancing Queen).

The Zoom sessions would not be the same without their enthusiasm, excellent signing and huge smiles (they really do put the smile in our Sing Sign and Smile Sessions).

And they have even recently joined our Include Champions Group – helping us learn about people’s rights under the Mental Capacity Act and review and develop training materials. They are always both excellent listeners as well as contributing greatly to the discussions, with much insight and sensitivity. 

Remote members like Philip and Simon bring so much to Include and are one of the reasons that we are determined to keep offering both local and online services, so we can continue to include and connect people far and wide.” 

Penny Sims
Penny Sims
Inclusive Communications Manager

Shared Lives – Singing and Signing together

Mandy and Michelle are members of The Include Choir.

Mandy is Michelle’s Shared Lives carer. The Shared Lives scheme matches adults who need care with someone who can provide support. Family and community life are a shared experience for both.

Michelle and Mandy joined The Include Choir over two years ago. Before the pandemic.

Mandy says, “When we could return to choir in person earlier this year, I was unsure about how Michelle would react.

I told her just before we were to leave. She leapt from her seat shouting “choir!” She then sang the Include Choir welcome song at the top of her voice before rushing to get her coat and shoes.

She was beyond happy to return and so pleased to see everyone.

She loves to perform and being part of include provides her with a safe, friendly space to do this.

The use of inclusive communication, structure and positivity make include choir a place she can make sense of which in turn gives her confidence and comfort. 

Include has really helped Michelle and myself to remember to use our Makaton and props to communicate with each other. It has given her such a great outlet to perform and feel successful.

The structure of sessions and inclusive communication has definitely improved her listening skills too. 

Small charities like Include.org are the heart of the disabled community. They provide a positive, happy, inclusive place for people to be.

The work that Include does to promote rights, understanding and inclusion is something that is amazing to be a part of.

To see people’s smiles when they see the choir perform is so moving and making people with disabilities visible in such a positive and empowering way is just what society needs. “

Penny Sims
Penny Sims
Inclusive Communications Manager
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