How Future Directions’ inclusive choir dazzled audiences in Birmingham
By Stuart Vallantine, Future Directions
The 13th October 2021 will live long in the memory of delegates at the Care Leaders awards. At 8.30 pm they gave a group of twelve people a standing ovation for the performance of their song Stronger Together. Before then, they wowed visitors at The Care Show with two performances.
The group in question is the Stronger Together Community Choir, winners of this year’s Care Sector’s Got Talent. Future Directions’ choir is one of many wonderful activities that Activities Coordinators across the UK have planned since the first lockdown. Kevin Phoenix, Music and Activities Coordinator at Stanley Grange, managed by Future Directions, wrote the choir’s own song, Stronger Together.
The choir’s membership includes people with learning difficulties and autism spectrum conditions, including a staff member on the autism spectrum. Choir sessions are conducted and co-hosted on Zoom by Kevin Phoenix and Lorraine Chapman-Linnett from Stanley Grange, and Stuart Vallantine from his home.
Adaptability was the key to a successful performance, especially in what was an unfamiliar situation for some members. There was a mix of excitement and nervousness in the camp, and this was most apparent on the road as well as in the venue. In difficult situations, Kevin’s experience of working with people on the autism spectrum came to the fore as well as his songwriting talents.
With a difficult journey at the start and the end of their destination, the choir arrived late and missed the start of The Care Show. Still, they performed at Birmingham NEC, at the entrance of the show at 11 am. The response was amazing, so much so they were invited to do a second performance at 1.30 pm on the Keynote Theatre stage. The second performance was also well received, and it was standing room only. The best was yet to come for the third one of the day at the National Conference Centre.
After leaving the NEC, the choir went to their hotel for a rest. They had their evening meal before making their way to the NCC for the Care Leaders awards. With sensory issues and nervousness prior to going on stage, this was a test of character. Unlike their journey to the NEC, the Stronger Together Community Choir didn’t need to rush the same, which was a godsend for most members.
By 7.15 pm they reached the venue in good time for the Care Leaders awards. With the choir on stage at 8.20 pm, there was enough time for another run-through of Stronger Together and photo opportunities. Though the first two performances at the NEC were well received, one member thought it lacked something in the musical department. Enter the train whistle.
On the original audition tape for Care Sector’s Got Talent, Stuart was also seen with his train whistle. After sensory overload got the choir’s Zoom co-host forgetting his whistle at the NEC performances, he made sure he remembered it for the NCC gig.
Before going on stage, one of the members was overwhelmed and in tears. On a whole, the choir was energised and ready to go. Another member, Keren, decided to film the NCC performance instead of taking to the stage.
By 8.35 pm, all the delegates at the Care Leaders awards were lifted by the choir’s performance. One that saw each and everyone doing a standing ovation, and rightly so. Perhaps it was the singing or Stuart’s train whistle that helped. Maybe it was the togetherness and energy as well as the quality of the performance that wowed its delegates.
Where does the Stronger Together Community Choir go from there? Onwards and upwards we hope, and will there be tour dates?