‘It’s something different’, ‘a lot of fun’, ‘it’s uplifting’ and ’it makes me happy’.
That’s what Include Choir members said when we asked them (with accessible questionnaires, Talking Mats and Makaton) whether they wanted the Include Choir to continue after its initial pilot.
And how about now, a year (and lots of performances) later? Well, we’re glad to say, it’s still a thumbs up!
Lynsey is our Lead Signer. She admits she lacked confidence when she joined the choir; she often came with her hood up, and preferred to sit without joining in. Then one evening, while listening to fab ‘Big Sing’ guests, Vocal Dimension Chorus, we noticed Lynsey signing beautifully to ‘Lean on Me.’ She was persuaded to sign at the front of the choir, and from that moment on, she has never looked back! Lynsey often volunteers to lead the choir in rehearsals and performances, and it’s fair to say that, her signing and memory for lyrics are generally reliable than the Choir Director’s!
Like many members, Lynsey used Makaton when she was younger and says that it helped her both express herself and understand. She says ‘I love to do Makaton with my friends. I’m happy. Makaton helps with friends that use Makaton’.
Lots of members say that using signs when we sing helps them learn and remember the words to songs. Sarah, who works in a Nursery, finds Makaton helpful for work, as do support-staff like Claire and Jo who come regularly. They both say they’ve ‘picked up lots of Makaton’ and ‘love watching our clients having a fabulous time.’
As that suggests, The Include Choir is about more than Makaton: it's also about fun, friendship and acceptance. Val, founder member and Committee Learning Disabilities Representative says that having a mix of people in the choir is ‘a good idea because it gets able-bodied people used to people with learning disabilities instead of being frightened of them. The Include Choir has changed my life... I’m much more confident than what I used to be.’
Family members are brought together too. Iain says ‘I love to see the different ways people communicate and I can sing with my ‘little boy’ Alex’. Alex has a lovely singing voice and autism; as ‘Props Champion’, he helps illustrate the meaning of songs, for people with complex communication needs. He likes that the choir is ‘Everyone together.’
And that is the key. Include Choir members believe learning and using Inclusive Communication skills together in a community activity like singing is crucial so that ‘people with various disabilities aren’t isolated.’ (Eunice- accordion player) and ‘so that everyone feels valued and included, especially those with disabilities.’ (Mark - singer).
Rosie and Ellie (singers) say that it’s important to ‘help everyone’ ‘so that everyone can understand and be understood’ and as Iain says, ‘the more we can all do to help each other communicate, the more we will understand and accept each other’.
This seems something worth working towards - and if we can do it through song and the occasional piece of cake, that can’t be bad.