The Choir With No Name, a charity that runs choirs for homeless and marginalised people, has arrived in Brighton. Choir manager Alex Proctor explains more…
We opened here in August and soon had 50 members. It’s grown really quickly. I am a ridiculous optimist but even I was amazed when, by week five, we opened our doors to find all these people waiting.
The choir has come to Brighton in partnership with Brighton Housing Trust, which provides housing, advisory and wellbeing services to people affected by homelessness in the city. Although Brighton and Hove is a small city, we have the second highest number of homeless people in the country after Westminster.
Our sessions take place from 6pm every Monday at One Church, in Gloucester Place. We start with a nice cup of tea and some biscuits. If someone is there for the first time, one of our volunteers will show them around the space and introduce them to the choir. Then we do half an hour of warm-ups before singing.
At our last performance we picked classics from the Choir With No Name repertoire – Happy Together; Good Vibrations; 20th Century Boy. We’re now perfecting a seasonal repertoire ready for our Christmas gig at Brighton Dome. Listen out for East 17’s Stay – we’re going to get the audience to join in!
We’re pretty flexible in the way we run the sessions. About a quarter of our members are street homeless and when you don’t know where you’re going to be living from week to week, it can be challenging to attend regularly. We learn songs in sections, use song sheets and have volunteers who will buddy up with people to help them get up to speed.
Afterwards we have a massive vegan meal cooked by our volunteer team. It’s a lovely feeling because we’ve just sung together and then we’re eating together – two of the most human experiences you can share with others.
One guy said to us: ‘This is the kind of thing that can change a person’s life.’ What the choir offers is a community space that isn’t clustered around a service. People who are homeless have to engage in a lot of services to move forward but when you constantly have to work within a system you can feel you have become part of that system. There isn’t an expectation in coming here – it’s just about being with other people and singing.
I think a project like this does a lot to challenge stereotypes in a positive way. It starts conversations. It shows what homeless people can achieve, and while it may not solve the wider issues of homelessness, there is value in giving people a sense of agency and helping them to feel like a part of society. Singing can give people a sense of having a voice again.
The Big Christmas Singalong, Brighton Dome, Dec 13th. choirwithnoname.org