It is so important to make sure people feel listened to and understood, especially if communication is not easy for that person.
Really listening to someone can make them feel good. It can really turn someone’s day around.
We spoke to one of our members Josh about why listening skills are so important.
We asked Josh because we have seen what a careful and patient listener he is in person and via Zoom, one to one, in a big group and as an interviewer. Josh’s top tip is:
“Don’t interrupt – it’s annoying – just listen.” He says “If you are in a big group wait your turn to speak, if you are on Zoom you can go on mute. When they have finished speaking you can reply.”
Josh thinks it is a good idea to make sure you have understood correctly – either by asking someone to repeat what they said, asking questions or saying back what you’ve heard.
We talked about how important it is to pay attention to non-verbal communication. And if you are talking to someone who is blind you need to remember that your own body language, smile, nod or Makaton won’t easily let them know that you are listening – you need to say something.
As well as listening to people speak, Josh loves listening to people singing in choirs – which is one reason he is a member of The Include Choir. One of the commitments all our choir members make is to “be good at listening” – these are lyrics in our Include Choir Agreement song, which is a code of conduct written by members.
Please let us know what you think of our resource – we’re ready to listen to your feedback.
Our guide is based partly on Samaritans’ SHUSH listening tips. You can learn more on their website at samaritans.org/shush
When The Include Choir meets virtually or in person we often talk about food!
Last week we voted on whether we thought it was good to have pineapple on pizza – or not.
Quite a controversial topic!
Good nutrition matters
When we can meet up in-person we have snacks available, ranging from the very healthy like carrots and seaweed to treats like biscuits, and we’ll admit it…sometimes we have cake!
We take care to offer a range of food options. While food can be fun, we know that being healthy can be a challenge for people. We also know that sometimes it can become a serious issue for people with learning disabilities or autism.
“Good nutrition is vital to the health and wellbeing of people with learning disabilities, but they are more likely than the general population to be underweight or overweight/obese, in most cases due to lifestyle factors and not to causes inherent to their learning disabilities.”
LeDeR Programme Fact Sheet 28, 2019
Free Resource about being Healthy
During Healthy Eating Week this June we know quite a few of our members have been paying special attention to what they eat. Well done everyone.
Our Choir Rep Hannah has worked alongside our volunteer Sofia to produce a free Easy Read resource about being healthy. We hope this will be useful to other people too.
We are producing one free Easy Read resource each month for a year as we explained in our blog last month.
A bit about our role model
Hannah is a very active member of The Include Choir.
She works hard to get the balance right between having fun and enjoying food and being healthy.
During lockdown she has been exercising at home and sometimes shows us what she has been baking.
Hannah keeps track of all her activities on a weekly planner.
One way she keeps fit while having fun is doing Bolly X, a fitness class inspired by Bollywood dance.
Hannah works in a supermarket where she can get free recipe cards and she also subscribed to Easy Cook magazine. One of her favourite recent bakes was Cinnamon Bun Muffins – don’t they sound delicious?! Her favourite healthy snack is melon.
Hannah says; “It’s ok to have some unhealthy stuff but not every day. It’s a good idea to look at the back, at the ingredients, to see how much sugar is in it.”
Hannah knows that what she drinks is important too. She likes cranberry juice (cranberry light) and also drinks about 6 cups of water a day.
We hope our free Easy Read resource inspires you to try one of Hannah’s ideas…
On our 5th birthday (4th May) we can’t physically get together to celebrate – instead we’ve gathered a few of our choir’s best bits from the last 5 years!
The Include Choir has not stopped making brilliant memories, no matter what comes our way – global pandemic included. And there is plenty more planned for our 5th birthday year, and beyond.
The Include Choir contributed to performance at Warwick School, which was also the start of our current Choir Rep, Hannah’s passion for our fellow singers the Vocal Dimensions Chorus Include Choir Agreement – YouTube
We did our first Carol singing at The Belfry shopping centre and Redhill Train Station The Include Choir at Carols at the Belfry – YouTube . These became firm favourites each year – long standing members Marian and Ellie both love these events. Ellie said; “My favourite memory was everyone singing Happy Birthday to me at Redhill Station where we were also Carol Singing! It made my day!”
Include’s CEO and Founder Alix Lewer, recalls our 1st Birthday, when we had a visit from the local Mayor, (then) David Powell; “He was fab, played a mean guitar, 2nd only in Include Choir ‘Mayor Guitar’ soloist Hall of Fame, to Keith Foreman!”
David’s Favourite memory was singing about the Mental Capacity Act at an Advocacy Conference at the BMW/ Mini Factory in Oxford.
Hannah’s favourite memory is our 1st Big Sing with Vocal Dimension Chorus and holding Alix’s son Leon with Ellie. She and Sarah also loved teaching our supporters from BoostFit how to sing and sign our “Hello song”, joining in with the exercises and running a stall (Val and Ellie were there too).
Charlie loved singing at The Barbican and teaching choirs from across the UK the signs for ‘The Kettle’s On” – based on Jamie’s words for the Sky Arts project ‘When We Collide’.
In our fourth year the Choir was in demand and we were invited to perform at more events and speak on more radio shows than ever before!
Ellie loved our Radio moments; Sarah and Jay on Susy Radio, and herself & Josh on Redhill Hospital radio. She and many other members also loved our special Sing and Sign in the local Park event for Sai (a member of our choir who sadly passed away but is not forgotten).
Josh is brilliant at seeing the funny side of slightly tricky situations. He enjoyed when we got stuck outside St Bart’s hospital in London (where we were booked to perform at a conference) and had to drive round and round because of roadworks. Our Choir Director, Alix kept getting out and the Coach Driver would say ‘I can’t stop here’ and he would just drive round the block. We just couldn’t find the way in! We were over an hour late – but we got a standing ovation and had to sing 2 encores for our performance when we finally sang!
We also remember David getting the fastest time for the sensory 1k at Parallel London!
5th year that no one could predict…
The 5th year of The Include Choir changed many things. We went online and we reached new people. Our online following has grown and we have over 300 members on the Include Choir Online Facebook page.
Philip and Simon found us and now love joining The Include Choir online from Hampshire (and we love having them!)
Geoffrey Dennis started working for include.org helping Alix to grow the charity as Head of Business Development. He loves the colour song that our member Louise wrote (In my World).
As well as writing a beautiful song, Louise loves seeing her friends at the Include Choir so much that she learned to use Zoom, and re-joined us online during the second lockdown.
Also during lockdown, Charlie enjoyed joining members of The Include Choir and SASH choir online to virtually sing ‘We’ll meet again’ for the 75th anniversary of VE Day.
Our regular member and percussionist David has loved being able to spend longer learning the songs while we’re online. And we have loved hearing his excellent singing over lockdown.
Sarah is really glad that we’ve been online this last year so she could keep in touch with friends and she is very proud to be Ambassador for The Include Choir.
And that’s just a small taster of what we’ve done together.
Reflections of a Small Charity CEO after an unprecedented year
‘Oh crumbs’ (or words to that effect), ‘this Covid-19 situation really is serious’ was roughly the thought crossing my mind as I arranged an emergency meeting of Trustees on Sunday 15th March 2020.
What were we going to do?
We’d already put some measures in place at the end of February to try to keep people safe at our choir rehearsals (hand sanitiser / writing a song about how to keep safe etc). We had cancelled an event taking place in a care home. Which, knowing what we know now, was absolutely the right move.
But by 15th March there was a strong sense that we needed to go further.
So, pre-lockdown, I faced my technophobic fears and we moved our weekly Wednesday evening choir sessions to Facebook Live (instead of gathering at our usual venue in Redhill). There was a huge sense of uncertainty about this, would we be able to continue supporting and connecting people, would our members come with us, would people still need Include ‘on a screen’? We just didn’t know.
As it turned out, the answer to all of those questions was yes. Even pre-pandemic, many of our existing members were at risk of feeling isolated from parts of society, due to the unequal experience of people with learning disabilities or autism.
Then, on top of this and the national lockdowns, many members are shielding and/or face restrictions on visitors to supported living or residential settings. Others moved homes to families, leaving friends and routines behind.
Now was not the time to reduce what our charity offered.
Instead, we had to adapt and support more vulnerable people to adapt too, so they didn’t become more isolated or anxious. We asked Include Choir members what they ideally wanted and when. We increased services, volunteer and staff numbers, and we committed to deliver what they needed through platforms like Zoom and Facebook for free, for as long as possible. Which was far longer than any of us expected.
At times, it has felt like hammering square pegs into round holes.
As a speech and language therapist, and former NHS safeguarding adults lead with 2 small children, I thought I was used to juggling multiple priorities, wading through bureaucratic quagmires, having difficult conversations and making challenging decisions. I’d already discovered that founding and running a charity (with 2 small children) was akin to juggling flaming torches blindfolded, while spinning plates and balancing a trifle on your nose…
…and now, a pandemic?
All the feelings
Having to make decisions about a situation where the information is unclear, the support to understand it limited and the consequences uncertain has been uniquely unsettling.
Having to shout so loudly to ensure our charity’s voice was heard and supported amongst the clamouring of so many in need, exhausting.
Feeling utterly powerless to control the direction of travel or be anything other than reactive to the situation left me feeling, at times, utterly despairing of ever making progress in long-held plans.
The sense of loss – it has felt so sad and uncomfortable that a key part what we are and love to do (sing together) has been under scrutiny and deemed high risk.
It felt, in short, as I imagine it often feels to be a person with a cognitive communication impairment (understanding and speaking difficulties). This is how many of our members (and some of their family members) tell us that life before and during the pandemic makes them feel:
intimidated by the world
not listened to
powerless to change things
Looking back over the last year, what has struck me is not the fear, the anxiety, the frustration (don’t get me wrong, all those things were there in abundance) but what was notable from our members, (and our volunteers and staff) was the resilience, the determination – and the ability to rise above expectations and external limitations to connect and create something beautiful for one another, showing what is possible when we can create the right fit for everyone.
Sofia is a volunteer for the Include Choir, and helps with a bit of everything! She says “My favourite song is I’m a Believerbecause I love signing it, and it’s one that makes everyone really happy and gets us dancing!”
lockdown, I supported members during choir rehearsals and meetings,
helped record videos of songs and the Makaton ‘Sign of the Week’,
gathered members’ news for the newsletter, and helped with
refreshments!” Says Sofia… “And now I do lots of other things
to support the choir online”.
Sofia’s Include Story
Sofia who is a
college student, joined the choir a few years ago when she needed
volunteering hours to complete her Duke of Edinburgh award. She chose
the Include Choir as she thought it would be fun and rewarding, and
hoped she could continue volunteering after completing the award.
consider myself a singer, but I enjoy singing with the Include Choir
as I like the feeling of inclusion and unity that singing together
can give to members. When the volunteers like me and support workers
sing with the choir members, it makes everyone feel equal and
together” says Sofia.
Since joining the
choir, Sofia has learnt some Makaton signing, and plans to complete
her Level 1 training as soon as possible.
Why is the Include Choir Special to Sofia?
the Include Choir, Sofia felt she knew about learning disabilities,
but feels now she has a much better understanding of them.
“I feel the
choir has helped me to gain more well-rounded knowledge about
disability and how it can affect people, which has been really
The Include Choir
is pretty cool, as everyone is involved and no-one gets left out.
The people make
the Include Choir so special. The members, volunteers, Alix, and
everyone are so amazing.”
Sofia says that
meetings and rehearsals are different every time because of all the
people in the choir which makes them exciting – “you don’t know
what’s going to happen, it’s always a surprise!” But one thing
you do know – there will be fun. ‘Our choir members are our
biggest fans – they sing and dance and they love the choir so
One of Sofia’s
favourite moments with the Include Choir is when she was nominated to
receive an award of recognition for the choir from the local Mayor.
The event was very posh, but she had a lot of fun!
How Sofia stepped up in lockdown
Sofia has been meeting up with the choir online regularly and
organising things behind the scenes.
“I attend the
Facebook Lives on Wednesdays, Zoom meetings on Fridays and Saturdays,
and I’ve been working on various online projects for Include, such
as the Black Lives Matter project. I have also helped create a
monthly Include Choir magazine, which is being sent to choir members
who have trouble accessing online information, to keep them in the
loop and help them feel more connected” She says.
Final Word from Sofia
join the choir to gain a better understanding of other people, and to
see that people with disabilities are not that different. The choir
and the people in it are awesome!
I really enjoy it and couldn’t ask for anything better. Being a part of the choir has been really cool so far, and I would love to help it grow as it continues. I hope our Big Give fundraiser in December can help us keep going for years to come”.
sings and plays percussion with The Include Choir. His favourite song
Over the Rainbow.
loves the enthusiasm of the choir and says; “It makes me feel good
– the people are what makes The Include Choir special”.
Since joining The Include Choir David has learnt to play the cajón – a box shaped procession instrument after he got one for Christmas a couple of years ago.
joined The Include Choir in June 2016 after a recommendation from one
of his support workers, Julie. He already knew he loved music and
sung in the choir at his church. And he liked the idea of meeting new
people, including some people with learning disabilities.
David’s best experience with The Include Choir so far was going to the Mini & BMW factory in Oxford. The choir traveled there by minibus and performed at an Empowerment Conference for Oxfordshire. There was an opportunity to walk around the museum afterwards. The event organiser loved it too, she told the choir; ‘I wish you every success in the future, the Include Choir are truly amazing’!
connected through Covid19
lockdown David has not been able to sing at church or in person with
The Include Choir. But he has linked-up with the choir on Facebook
and Zoom – he says that it’s felt good to keep that connection and
routine. He hasn’t been able to do much else during lockdown and
looks forward to the weekly sessions.
joins the choir’s “Tea Break” socials on Zoom on Saturday
mornings. He likes hearing what other people are doing and sharing
his own news and views. And he really looks forward to the weekly
Facebook Live sessions and joins in with the wide variety of songs.
Dad says “We,
as parents, are very grateful to The Include Choir for supporting and
encouraging David over the difficult time we have all had over during
the lockdown period. The Include Choir has enabled David to show and
develop his talents at singing and playing”.
when he and his family were on holiday at a campsite in
Cambridgeshire, David joined the Facebook Live session via his iPad
and used the camper van’s grill pan as improvised percussion!
David and his family have learnt a lot about about recordings during lockdown so David can contribute to the choir’s weekly songs (shared on YouTube ) about the Makaton sign of the week – they even bought a new microphone!
word from David…
“People should watch the choir’s videos on YouTube or join the Facebook session to get a really good idea about the choir and see if they would like to join us”.