“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?”
The world feels alien to lots of people right now.
Covid 19 affects everyone in some way, no matter who you are, where you live, what you normally do, your beliefs, your status in society – Covid 19 doesn’t care about any of that.
And so, in some ways this pandemic brings parity. Living with unprecedented restrictions right across society puts us all in the same boat.
Okay, there are still differences. Some people are out on the deck toiling away as the storm hits us, some are upfront navigating a path through the chaos, some confined to the sickbay, some making sure passengers are still fed and entertained, some hiding away in their cabin. But basically, we are in this together. We are all being thrown about by unfamiliar and unpredictable forces. No one is in their comfort zone.
People with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) are pretty much always weathering a storm. And other marginalised groups too – the elderly for example – always trying to make sense of a world that communicates so differently to what they knew. The usual world order does not necessarily offer them a welcoming place in which to live and interact.
For these people can the pandemic bring some parity and increased understanding? And if so, what long-lasting changes can society make to sustain the positive aspects of this moment of clarity?
I have one neurotypical (standard) son and one who has a blend of SEND. Guess who is struggling the most during the lockdown? It’s the neurotypical one.
What I’ve noticed is other people now facing some of the struggles my son with SEND regularly faces. He is never really in his comfort zone, so the surreal Covid 19 world doesn’t feel too distant from his usual world.
For example, he can find conventional verbal and/or physical greetings or goodbyes quite difficult. He can feel especially awkward and unsure of what to do if he sees people he knows out of the usual context. But now nearly all of us feel this. Almost everything and everyone is out of its usual context. Many people are only truly comfortable at home. And most feel awkward about how we greet each other if we do see someone, even people we know well.
Then we look at strangers on the street when we go out for our daily exercise and we can’t tell by looking at their faces if they are a threat to us. Covid 19 doesn’t show itself in facial expression. And so, without that knowledge, we may feel anxious. We may not find the time to smile at people because our mind may be in a heightened state of alert. Are we 2 meters away, should we cross the road, should we walk faster? These kinds of thoughts can be overwhelming.
Busy thoughts are quite common amongst people with autism and anxiety. They may not know how to interpret facial expressions, they might feel threatened, and may not smile reciprocally – it doesn’t mean they are not thinking about you or wanting to connect with you. But they are sometimes overwhelmed by other sensations and distractions. Covid 19 has given us all an insight into this. People are turning to more virtual interactions during lockdown – the online world can seem more manageable than the real one. This is something many people with SEND can relate to.
An ex-colleague of mine recently wrote this on LinkedIn:
And this too reminds me of how the autistic mind can work. There can be a tendency to take things literally – asking questions to which they want a truthful answer, and giving honest and detailed answers themselves. So that ubiquitous and sometimes empty “how are you?” statement we so often make, and barely listen for the reply…well, that doesn’t really work for the autistic person! They might think you actually want to hear how they are! And who can blame them – surely they have got it right? They are genuine.
Here again, Covid 19 brings some parity. These days when we say “How are you”, guess what – we might actually mean it, and we probably even want to hear a truthful answer! And when I sign off this blog with ‘take care’ – I really mean that too.
Here’s a thought…once this storm subsides, we could continue to look out for our shipmates and hang onto the increased understanding, sincerity and parity we are experiencing now
‘Music is the most inclusive form of communication there is. The Include Choir sums up with a song‘