About ten years ago Sally hit a low ebb in her life. She found herself single, with teenage sons, working long hours, with elderly parents – mum with vascular dementia and dad trying his best to help. Everything seemed hopeless, hard work and a real sense of pointlessness was beginning to set in.
One day at work her colleague mentioned that she was starting up a community choir in Hartcliffe and they were looking for new members. Sally realised she had to do something for herself “you can’t pour from an empty vessel”, she says. Whether it was sport or a social group, she needed to do something and she had “always liked singing so maybe this was it?” she thought.
Now, of course, there’s lots of scientific evidence to support that singing is good for you, but it wasn’t so readily known at the time. While Sally found her first choir visit “very daunting, I didn’t know anyone”, over time she developed a strong “feeling of belonging” through the choir.
“You realise that we all tell ourselves that we can’t sing or think oh no, they’ll hear my voice – but singing in the choir fosters a sense of comradeship. We practice and face our fears together.”
A few years later Sally faced redundancy from her job of sixteen years. She had that inevitable thought of “what now?” She took on a maternity cover role in a school in Southmead and did other bits and pieces but she says “none of it really did it for me – it just paid the bills.”
The original choir teacher sadly had to give up her role due to ill health. By then the group had become good friends (and still are). One of her friends suggested “why don’t we form our own band?” Well, they all fell about laughing at first but then, facing their fears together again, they decided perhaps it wasn’t such a far-fetched idea. So, some members of the group took up lessons in the ukulele, flute and guitar.
As the vocalist of the band, Sally toured with them all over Bristol and Somerset. On one memorable occasion they played our very own Clubhouse at the Russets, Sandford Station. She could see immediately that it was a good place and she told her friend while they were packing away after their performance “I’m going to ask for a job here”. The next day Sally returned her completed application form and was delighted to secure a job as a Support Worker at Sherwood.
Sally was at Sherwood for two years and is now enjoying her working life as a Therapy Assistant with Wayne Lawn. “Now I try in my work to bring music to people’s lives. One resident told me this week – “I forget the pain in my knees when I sing””.
The evidence speaks for itself. Researchers at University of East Anglia “examined the benefits of singing among people with mental health conditions including anxiety and depression. They found that people who took part in a community singing group maintained or improved their mental health. And that the combination of singing and socialising was an essential part of recovery.” (UEA, 2017)
A study earlier this year about workplace choirs from the University of Leicester “revealed that belting out a tune in a choir at work can help to reduce workplace stress and feelings of social isolation”. (UoL, 2019).
Sally loves the Zimbabwean quote “If You Can Walk You Can Dance, If You Can Talk You Can Sing”.
Sally’s message to us all over this festive period, where we will be singing along in the car, with children, with residents or indeed in a choir is…
“Singing is not about how we sound, it’s about how we feel. Make that first step. There are so many community choirs. If it’s not for you or even if you turn up and just listen, it’s ok – but go and try it.”
And finally from Sally: “Your voice still matters. Sing. Raise your voice!”
So, who’s inspired to set up a workplace choir??!! We’d love to hear your story. Thank you so much Sally for sharing your fantastic story with us.