Letting people shine
The members of the Include Choir Steering Group play a vital role in the work of Include.org, a charity which provides community projects, training and consultancy to teach people better ways of including and involving people with understanding or speaking difficulties.
Include are reliant on donations and they are taking part in The Big Give Christmas Challenge match funding campaign. The Big Give Challenge will double any donations made online at between midday 30th November and midday 7th December.
The Include Choir Steering Group are all members of one of Include.org’s community projects, the Include Choir, which uses music as a tool for inclusion, using Makaton signing in their performances as well as other inclusive communication techniques. They also raise awareness and teach about inclusive communication and the Mental Capacity Act.There are six members of the group, Choir Rep Hannah Evans, Ambassadors Sarah Wright and Jay Hughes, and members Joshua Madagan, Ellie Batley and Jo Broadhurst-Jones. They have different learning disabilities and conditions including Down Syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome and cerebral palsy.
The role of the group is to assist Include.org’s Trustees in making decisions about how to operate the organisation, by helping them to understand what is essential to members with learning disabilities. They work alongside choir members who do not have learning disabilities.
All of the Include Choir Steering Group members help make the #WeTalkMakaton Sign of the Week videos. The videos are shared on Include Choir’s YouTube channel as a way of making people aware of inclusive communication. These videos are introduced by Sarah and Hannah, who also share the Makaton Sign of the Week on the Choir’s closed Facebook Group each week.
The Steering Group also represent the Include Choir at events, for example, Jay opened the Mayor of Reigate and Banstead’s Volunteer Award Ceremony in October.
Says Alix Lewer, Choir Director, “Jay did a great introduction, explaining who the Include Choir are and introducing our performance. His humour and warmth meant he had the audience laughing and on our side even before we sang.”
Josh, Sarah, Jay and Hannah have all written blogs about their achievements and the importance of inclusion, which you can read here: www.include.org/home-page/blog/
To celebrate the Include Choir’s 5th birthday this year, Include has been releasing a series of free easy read resources, to help people live better lives, which the Steering Group members helped to create, in particular Josh and Hannah. Hannah worked with a volunteer to make a blog an easy read resource about healthy living and Josh helped to create one about listening skills. You can find both of these easy read guides here: www.include.org/home-page/blog/
Having their voices heard in the pandemic
During the pandemic, so they could make sure that people with understanding or speaking difficulties are still included and their voices are still heard, they learned new technological skills. They found it hard when they were unable to meet face to face, but with lots of patience, kindness and using different ways to support each other they all worked together to learn new technological skills so they could continue their work.
Sarah and Jay helped the other members to join meetings online, with Sarah teaching lots of other people with learning disabilities as well as staff, how to use Zoom. The group learned to take turns on Zoom and to listen and make sure everyone’s voice was heard.
Ellie usually takes photos of group members whenever they meet up in person, but when the meetings were virtual she shared loads of ideas and played an important part in all of the weekly Choir sessions.
Once they were able to meet in person again, they also organised transport and support for another member to be able to attend.
Hannah is also the Include Choir rep. She has spoken about challenging herself to be the Choir Rep in a blog. Says Alix Lewer, “She has introduced us to so many different groups and important people and has learned to share news and listen to the group. She is right to be proud of what she has learned and contributed.”
During the pandemic, the Include Choir helped write songs to teach people about being safe and about sharing feelings about hard times. The Choir wrote a song explaining to people how to communicate with people with learning disabilities and was featured as part of KindFest, held for World Kindness Day in 2020:
Everyone in the group feels proud of what they have achieved, even when it has been hard, particularly during the pandemic. When other people talk about the group, they use words like ‘inspiring’ and ‘uplifting’.
Says Alix Lewer,
“They are all brilliant advocates for themselves, other members and all people with learning disabilities, showing people what can be achieved if you include people and let them shine.”