At Christmas, many of us take community, happiness and over-indulgence for granted, but for someone dealing with homelessness, this time of year is often the darkest and most difficult.
Marie Benton set up The Choir with No Name, a choir for those with experience of homelessness, in 2008 and it is set to perform in Brighton this month.
It’s about helping people build new, positive Christmas memories
Marie, who at the time was working for a mainstream homeless charity, had always sung in choirs, recognising the benefits singing brought in creating community, friendship and happiness and how significant this could be to the homeless.
Rehearsals act as a weekly space for members to eat together and catch up. Choir leader Emma Broomfield said: “It’s a really great opportunity to make sure that people are getting one healthy, hearty meal a week, but also, more than that, a chance to sit down, talk, socialise, build community and find new friendships.”
Eight years on and there are now four choirs – two in London, one in Birmingham and one in Liverpool.
Adel joined in 2008 after becoming addicted to drugs at 15.
“The choir would keep me focused, would exercise my brain again and help me to learn about maintaining relationships,” he said.
“Actually, if I hadn’t attended that first choir rehearsal in 2008, I don’t know if I would still be alive today, let alone enjoying the amazing benefits of communal singing.”
“We have been a catalyst for people to stabilise other areas of their life,” said Emma.
“The thing the choir does beautifully is give people back their confidence and self-esteem, their sense of self-worth, and also some purpose.
“We’ve definitely seen people moving on in the time they’ve been with us, getting out of homelessness and into employment and getting involved in other homelessness and musical projects.”
Asked whether there are plans to establish a choir in Brighton – where homelessness has more than tripled in the last five years and is the third highest outside London – Emma said: “Our ambition is to have choirs wherever they may be useful. Brighton is on our radar.”
“Brighton’s a city which gets music and which gets alternative ways to solve social issues.
“We’re very excited to be coming down to Brighton to do gigs.”
Christmas is a key time in the choir’s diary.
“It’s about helping people build new, positive Christmas memories,” said Emma.
“People have often had awful times at Christmas and the Christmas gigs give them something to look forward to.
“A few years ago, four members of the choir even spent Christmas together.”
The Choir with No Name is playing at Brighton Dome on December 20 for its Big Christmas Singalong.
Emma says visitors can expect ‘lots of Christmas joy and cheer, lots of opportunity to get involved and lots of Christmas pop classics’.