I was touched that Comic Relief asked me to visit community choir Harmony in Leeds last week, and see their vital work first-hand.
Harmony brings people from all ethnic backgrounds together, in the Leeds area. The people who attend range from refugees, asylum seekers, single parents, and people with health/disability conditions.
The aim of the group is to break down the barriers which might exist between people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds through the shared experience of singing and learning one another’s songs.
Regularly singing and socialising promotes mutual understanding, friendship, regularity and continuity as well as access to wider networks and social contacts for those who feel isolated and insecure.
There were times I fought back tears on hearing from the founder Francis that many who attend, arrive hungry, meaning Harmony not only offers a platform to sing together but also to feed others at break time. To nourish them physically and emotionally.
Laden on the table was fresh fruit, homemade cake, drinks, savoury snacks and biscuits.
It was an emotional evening for me but also an uplifting one. Seeing the unity and friendships of the group there and witnessing the joy they felt singing together was heartwarming.
I can’t sing a note in tune but joined in with the contagious happiness that was spreading through the hall. To hear from asylum seekers and refugees, men and women, some suffering with mental health problems, and others surviving on so little a week meaning the cost of a bus ticket to get to the choir would be impossible without the support they receive from Comic Relief shows how vital a cause, Red Nose Day is.
Many spoke of the confidence they now have thanks to Harmony, the contacts and friends they’ve made, a window of down time in otherwise stressful lives. A chance to forget their worries and sing. Others spoke of how taking part each week helped them improve their English skills as they learnt the lyrics to the songs.
The warm, welcoming atmosphere makes for a safe place for those who in this current climate in particular might not find refuge as easily elsewhere. Meeting weekly from 6-7.30 at the Leeds Anglers’ Club in a hall in the back, they come together to connect, sing, eat and have fun.
The night was incredibly humbling.
To see my little Xander try and sing along with the group, legs wrapped around me as he counted loudly those with spectacles and those without, making his new comrades in the choir smile and burst out laughing with his observations and antics. The kid has a big personality and it was valued by the choir.
And that’s the thing, everyone there can be themselves.
Oliver, 7, more shy than his brother sat and drew, his favourite pastime. It was mine as a child too. There was an area where children could play under the watchful eye of a supervisor and there they used art supplies to colour in pictures in between playing on wooden toys as the beautiful singing voices from the choir filled the room.
Francis is a beacon of light, the founder of Harmony, shared that she was resolute in creating a choir which reflected the diversity of Leeds and would welcome all. She hoped to break barriers and offer support and she’s done that tenfold.
Many spoke of Harmony being an emotional lifeline tonight, a place that’s helped them grow in confidence and has given them a sense of belonging. It was a privilege to chat and sing, with these incredible people.
They are all so very grateful for Comic Relief’s support and wanted to wave a thank you to you all.
I’ve started weekly vlogs and this one, week 2 features our time with Harmony.
Do watch it and please consider donating to Comic Relief as we have.
Thank you x https://www.comicrelief.com/donate
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