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.
“People kept recommending the choir to me because they know I love singing and signing. Eventually, I thought I’m going to give this a try. From the minute I arrived everyone was so friendly; I knew it was something I wanted to stay involved with. I absolutely loved it and I was sold.”
Helen finds it
difficult to choose a single favourite song, she says “We recently
recorded This is Me (from The Greatest Showman) for the big screens
at Heathrow airport and I thoroughly enjoyed that. I enjoy a lot of
the songs, especially the Christmas songs, they are always fun.”
After training as
a Speech and Language therapist with Alix Lewer (Founder and CEO of
include.org), Helen joined The Include Choir to share her love of
singing and signing – and to see what she could learn.
Helen says she’s
learnt “to communicate with all sorts of different people,
including people who are really challenged in their ability to
communicate effectively. I do know Makaton but every week I am
learning more signs, it is fantastic. We have so many different kinds
of people in the choir, that is the main thing I have taken away –
learning from the other members.”
Linking up in hard times
Helen says that
the choir really helps to keep her mood up. “I have actually had
quite a lot of mental health difficulties in the last two years.
While I was off work, I found coming to the choir to sing with other
people releases endorphins and you feel part of something bigger. I
would say that has been a lifeline for me, and has really helped me
not feel lonely or down. I am really grateful to Alix for that.”
pandemic Helen continues to take part in the choir’s virtual
Wednesday night I tune into Alix on Facebook, I really look forward
to it. On a Friday I do the sing and sign and on Saturday morning I
do the virtual tea break, just to see how everyone is doing.
My friend Marian
is a huge fan, and even though she has moved to Shropshire, she still
tunes in each Wednesday to the Facebook session.”
The Include Choir – does what it says on the tin!
“I think Alix’s
vision was to have a choir for everyone to come along to,
irrespective of their background, disability, or anything. I think
that is why she chose the name, which is a very clever and memorable
name” Says Helen.
Choir is fun, and there is something for everyone. I don’t think it
matters if you’re not a good singer or a good signer, you can come
and do what you like, take from it what you can. Everyone is friendly
and accepts one another as they are and everybody is involved, that
is what I love about it.”
She adds, “It
is a very unusual choir, we actually put in a video for Britain’s
Got Talent, but unfortunately we didn’t get through – at least
another inclusive signing choir did!”
Singing Alix’s praises
Now the bit to
make the boss blush, Helen says; “I think Alix is a complete star,
I am a huge fan of her. She has put so much energy and passion into
The Include Choir and I think that has paid dividends, and everyone
is very committed. We are like one big family, and I’m sure other
people will tell you that.”
The Include Choir has taught Josh singing and Makaton signing.
He says; “The
Include Choir makes me feel special because I’m very involved. I
help a lot at meetings and rehearsals and keep the choir to time”!
He is also a member of the steering group.
Josh often takes part in the choir’s ‘Sign of the Week’ videos, and has found this helpful for learning Makaton. His favourite song is‘Let’s go fly a kite’ because it’s well known and easy to learn – and good fun with the Include Choir props too!
Josh’s best bits
Josh says that the choir is special as people are able to sign which helps everyone to understand and join in. Josh learnt Makaton when he was much younger, but had forgotten most of it, so it has been good to practice.
Josh’s favourite memory with The Include Choir is when he travelled to London in a minibus with Alix and the choir to perform at Barts hospital.
arrived, they were unable to find parking, but the choir does not
give up easily and in the end the performance went ahead and had a
large audience of about 200 medical staff!
The audience gave
some fantastic feedback with comments like “Today I learned that
people with learning difficulties are…full of confidence, strength
and a sense of fun”.
and family are fans of the Include Choir too, and have been to watch
him perform and sing with the choir.
Sally enjoys watching the reactions of people when they see the choir
perform, as they get drawn in and everyone enjoys themselves.
“Singing with everyone can be quite emotional, as it’s such a
lovely feeling” She says.
Sally really enjoyed attending Choir-oke in the Harlequin Theater in Redhill. She says “It was a big event where lots of local choirs attended, and at the end the audience members sang along. Watching the choir use props, like the big flying kite, was really enjoyable”.
Sally has been
blown away by the dedication and enthusiasm of staff and volunteers
in the Include Choir, “I am amazed at how the choir has been able
to keep going since Covid19”.
Josh has helped lead an online Arts and Crafts session where members
He has also been
joining all the online choir sessions, sing and sign sessions, and
social tea-breaks via Zoom. Josh says “everyone just has a chat…I
enjoy sharing news and keeping up-to-date with everyone, even though
we can’t be with each other”.
word from Josh
Josh says that
other people should join the choir and they can expect “a lot of
fun singing that makes them feel good”, as singing with the Include
Choir makes him feel happy and fabulous!
‘Everyone I come across I tell them about the choir because I think
it’s such a good thing to do!’ She would recommend people to join
the Include Choir as it’s great fun, and the enthusiasm from
volunteers and members draws you in. “I don’t know anyone that
doesn’t enjoy being in the choir.”
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”.
Hannah learnt Makaton in early childhood but she’d forgotten most of it, until she started singing and signing with Include. Hannah and her life-long friend, Ellie joined when Include started in 2016, and have always been a fabulous feature of the choir, right at the center, singing and signing with great passion and energy!
Hannah’s favourite thing to sing and sign is The Battle Hymnof the Mental Capacity Act. An original composition by the choir, it raises awareness of how to support people like Hannah and Ellie to make informed decisions about their own lives.
Hannah’s decision to help others…
has greatly improved with the choir, to the point that she has taught
lots of signs to family and friends as well as the young kids at a
children’s group she volunteers at near her home. She says, “I
was reading with them and signing as well.”
Being a member of the choir has given her great confidence in many areas of her life, and the responsibilities that Include encourages its members to take on have been great for Hannah’s self-esteem.
She says; “I’m
not just a singer and member, I challenged myself to be a Choir Rep –
an organiser and helper for the choir, which I’ve done in lockdown
too” Hannah says.
As part of her role
she elects the choir’s Star of the Month and ensures the recipient
gets the certificate. It’s a role she carries out brilliantly and
is very proud of.
“I know who the Star of the Month is this month…but I can’t tell you,” says Hannah, with a big smile! She’s sworn to secrecy until she makes the big announcement, live on air during the Include Choir Online Facebook session. “It takes a lot of thinking,” she says. “I have to think about who’s had it before or not and what they have done recently.”
She did get a Star
of the Month herself once – “I got one for being the Choir Rep…but
that was ages ago now!” Maybe she’s due another one!
Hannah has fond and proud memories of performing with The Include Choir at the local Harlequin Theater in Redhill, and a trip up to London to sing the Mental Capacity Act song. That was all before Covid19.
Hannah’s mum Kate
is a big Include fan. “It’s really helped Hannah’s
understanding and her independence,” she says, “I think it’s
brilliant at the moment because all that support is still there
through the lockdown, with all the things that Alix has put in
Regarding lockdown Hannah says, “I’m keeping myself busy, which is good, that’s the important thing.”
She’s in a bubble
with her parents and enjoys a regular online schedule of activities
including a weekly Bollywood dance class and, of course, the choir
session on a Wednesday evening and Include’s tea break Saturday
morning meet-up on Zoom, which is an opportunity to chat to others
about what’s been going on during the week.
missing seeing more of her friends and her sisters. “I have seen
them but on their doorstep. And I’ve only met up with one of my
friends – Ellie.”
Include is very grateful to Hannah for the wonderful contribution she has made and continues to make to Include through the lockdown of 2020. She’s always a star to us!
“Singing with The Include Choir is a joyful feeling” says choir member MaryClare, who sings and signs with the choir.
Her favourite song is the Bicycle Song , because it has a great tune and words which encourage people to enjoy cycling and being outdoors. I ride my bike every day and often sing this as I pedal along.
MaryClare’s Include Story
MaryClare joined The Include Choir after she saw an advert in her local community center. “I thought it sounded just right for me – I wanted to sing and sign and make new friends.
I first learnt some Makaton signing at Furzefield school in Merstham where I was working. I wanted to keep on learning and practicing Makaton when I went to work at the hospital. And also, I always loved singing!
Joining The Include Choir has taught me new signs, as well as lots of new songs. For me, signing is a way of using my body to express music and the feeling behind it”.
MaryClare has had so many amazing moments with The Include Choir, she finds it difficult to pin down her favourite! Her highlights include singing at community events in the local theater and in the park in Redhill, and doing inclusive communication workshops at Parallel London. “It was great as people were joining in and there was a great sense of community”, she says.
“I am proud of the choir and I’m always telling people about it! My parents are also big The Include Choir fans! They have attended lots of the choir’s performances and always watch the Facebook and YouTube videos, they love them!”
Why is The Include Choir special?
MaryClare says that The Include Choir has taught her the value of total communication, which is communication that uses things like facial expression, hands, body language and signing, as well as words.
“The Include Choir is good for broadening people’s horizons, and extending their social circles. And it is important for people with learning disabilities and people without learning disabilities to form friendships and learn respect for each other as this creates a better community. The Include Choir helps people to do this” she says.
“What makes the Include choir so special to me is the people. We are all together and everybody’s opinions and feelings are valued.”
How Covid-19 changed things
MaryClare is impressed with how the choir has kept going through the lockdown, even when they haven’t been able to meet up with each other. “There are so many members who used to come to the in-person choir practices and events, who now take part in the Facebook live sessions or the Zoom sessions.
With Include Choir sessions now happening on lots of different days and online means there are more opportunities for more people to take part, as they can do it from the safety and comfort of their own home. We’ve even had people join us from very far away from our original base in Surrey – places like Scotland, Wigan and South Africa!”
MaryClare also says; “Although it is wonderful to stay connected and to be able to sing online, nothing beats being able to sing together and to chat and see everyone in person.”
Final word from MaryClare
“The Include choir includes everybody, it is such an inclusive place to be for people with and without learning disabilities. The use of singing and signing, with support workers and volunteers brings everyone together on an equal footing.
More people should join the Include Choir because it’s really important that people know Makaton signs, even if it’s just a few.
The choir is so brilliant; I want more people to come so they can benefit and join in!”
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”.
example, if people are talking to someone who is deaf or non-verbal,
the song reminds them not to talk to the person behind or next to
them – talk to the disabled person directly, otherwise it is not
agrees; “The Kind Communication song reminds people not to judge a
person on first impressions, but rather talk to them, make time for
them and try to understand them.”
first found out about The Include Choir through Facebook. She read
about how Alix, a speech and language therapist, wanted everyone to
be included…so she set up the choir for people without and with
Sarah says; “It’s called The Include Choir because it is just
inclusive to everyone, there is no right or no wrong, everyone is the
same in their different ways.
was really nervous when I first started but another member Mary Clare
took me under her wing and I was all okay. And if I’m ever down
Nicola, one of the volunteers, will talk to me and cheer me up. I’d
say to anyone that is thinking of joining the choir – don’t worry
– give it a go!”
told Jay about the choir; “Sarah told me I would enjoy it. I can
practice my singing, sign language, meet new people and just have a
laugh! It also works well with supporting my speech…
…And (before Coronavirus) it meant I could spend time with Sarah outside of the house we live in”! Says Jay.
might be time to reveal that Sarah and Jay have become a couple.
of Sarah and Jay’s favourite Include Choir moments (and the
favourite moment of many other members too) was them telling everyone
in the choir that they had got engaged!
connected through Covid19
Include Choir’s online activities during coronavirus help people
who have mental health needs, use sign language or are on their own.
The choir is a place they can come to spend time with other
supportive people.” Says Jay.
linked up with the choir during lockdown on Zoom and Facebook Lives.
Communicating with the choir during lockdown gives me something to do
during the day, especially if Sarah is not around, I have something I
can focus on. And it is good seeing everyone else doing the same
agrees; “What’s nice is we can still communicate with people –
it is just a bit different. We still celebrate people’s birthdays
and sing Happy Birthday to them. I would feel quite down if we didn’t
have Include in lockdown. I am not too bad at the moment as I can go
to work – but the choir has kept me going before.” Says Sarah.
choir sang and signed Jay’s favourite song “Don’t Worry” and
it was shared online and even entered into a virtual talent
competition! It gave the choir and the community a real boost.
Despite all the successes, Sarah has one eye on the future; “It was great when we could perform together – fingers crossed we can get back to it. It is a shame with Coronavirus. Online its good, but not the same.”
word from Sarah & Jay…
Include Choir helps us to help others…
singing and signing are really helpful when communicating with people
who are non-verbal. Says Sarah. We have a few people where Jay and I
live who have brain injuries and are non-verbal and we can
communicate with them. I show one of the boys our Include Choir
videos and he loves it – we can make him happy and included by
showing him Include Choir songs.
helps me to communicate better at work too. I work with pre-school
age children. I play with them, change their nappies, talk to them,
feed them, keep them safe…and of course I can sing and sign with
the community see us perform, I’m proud that we’re representing
the choir and educating audiences about things like the Mental
Capacity Act and how to support people like me who might have
Jay sums up; “Have a listen to us on YouTube and watch how we perform, that way you can learn about inclusive communication and perhaps donate some money to help us keep going?”