Blog | Include.org - Part 2

Improve your listening skills…

Include is well know for Makaton signing and singing – another important skill that we try to teach and enhance is listening.

Our FREE Easy Read resource this month is about how to be a good listener. You can download it here:

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

Our thanks also to www.changepeople.org for their Easy Read guide called What is Safeguarding.

Penny Sims
Penny Sims
Inclusive Communications Manager

Sometimes we have cake…but we try to be healthy

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…

Penny Sims
Penny Sims
Inclusive Communications Manager

Free Easy Read Resources from Include

To celebrate our 5th birthday year as a charity, we’re producing and gifting the world some Easy Read resources!

Our friends over at Photosymbols.com answer the question “What is Easy Read” brilliantly (do take a look).

In short, it means writing and designing information in a way that all people, including people with a learning disability, can understand.

The techniques include using plain English and clear fonts alongside photos or symbols to enhance understanding.

The need for Easy Read information has been highlighted by Covid19. Everyone needs access to clear, easy to understand information about things like lockdown rules and how to stay safe.

By using Easy Read standards for other topics too (not just Covid), we can make many aspects of life more inclusive and accessible to all.

We’ve searched for Easy Read resources ourselves, and in some cases struggled to find any.

For that reason, our volunteers and member/volunteers are working together to produce Easy Read resources on topics that interest us. We hope these will be useful to other people too.

We plan to give away one Easy Read resource each month for a year. Starting this month. Here’s the plan:

June – Healthy Eating resource

July – Listening skills resource

August – Digital Photography resource

September – Recycling / upcycling resource

October – Black Lives Matter resource

November – Kindness resource

December – Christmas Decoration Making resource

January – Mindfulness resource

February – Chinese New Year resource

March – Pancake Making resource 

April – Easter resource

This is the plan, but if you want to suggest a different topic for our series, please let us know. We’re open to ideas!

Penny Sims
Penny Sims
Inclusive Communications Manager

Happy 5th Birthday to us!

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.

Looking back

1st year

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!”

2nd year

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!”

This was also the year that we wrote and performed our first  Mental Capacity Act (MCA) song and met our now Patron – Baroness Ilora Finlay  Remember… The Include Choir & the Battle Hymn of the MCA – YouTube

Members David and Josh have fond memories of singing the MCA song – and still love it now.

3rd year

By our 3rd year we were beginning to get bookings far and wide!

Ellie has fond memories of meeting Andrew from Britain’s Greatest Dancer at the Family Voice Conference in Woking, where the choir performed and ran a workshop in April 2019.

Sarah loves being on journeys up to London to perform together – by mini bus or train. She said; “ I also remember one rehearsal where we couldn’t get into the venue, a church, so we all sang in the carpark!”  Rowing boats in the car park – The Include Choir – YouTube

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’.

4th year

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!

Sarah will never forget the special dress-up Big Sing event for her birthday. There was cake too! Films, musicals & pancakes – The Include Choir – YouTube

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).

At the event we remembered how kind Sai was and how he always made us smile. We performed some of his favourite songs with his family alongside us. The Include Choir’s Sunshine Big Sing 2019 – Remembering Sai

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.

Bring on the next 5 years!

Penny Sims
Penny Sims
Inclusive Communications Manager

A Square Peg in a Pandemic-shaped hole

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.

 

Increased demand

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.

 

Juggling blindfolded

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:

confused

intimidated by the world

not listened to 

powerless to change things

frustrated

judged

 

 And yet…

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. 

 

Alix Lewer
Alix Lewer

Sofia’s Story

Meet Sofia…

Sofia is a volunteer for the Include Choir, and helps with a bit of everything! She says “My favourite song is I’m a Believer because I love signing it, and it’s one that makes everyone really happy and gets us dancing!”

“Before 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.

“I don’t 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?

Before joining 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 interesting.

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 much.’

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

Since 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

“People should 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”.

Penny Sims
Penny Sims
Inclusive Communications Manager

David’s Story

David sings and plays percussion with The Include Choir. His favourite song is Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

He loves the enthusiasm of the choir and says; “It makes me feel good – the people are what makes The Include Choir special”.

His Include story…

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.

David 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’!

Saying connected through Covid19

During 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 really looks forward to the weekly sessions.

David 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.

David’s 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”.

Even 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!

The Bicycle Song!! https://youtu.be/y79rDhdBpFA

Final 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”.


Penny Sims
Penny Sims
Inclusive Communications Manager
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