My name’s Caroline. I’m a volunteer with The Choir With No Name North London.
There are two lots of volunteers. I almost think of it as the upstairs-musical volunteers and the downstairs-bit-of-this-and-that volunteers. We have a rota, which is everything from being the chef, helping the chef, admin, teas and coffees, singing or whatever, and it rotates, thank God, because personally I wouldn’t want to be chef every week. It’s a big challenge, because you don’t know whether it’s forty people or thirty people or fifty people. I’m over-generous to a fault, every time. I over-cater. I can’t bear the idea of there not being enough food so I always do too much. The reality is people can take stuff home if there are leftover leftovers. People do go out with the odd Tupperware box and stuff. There are people in hostels, which is pretty grim, to say the least; there are people who are now in flats and there are people who are working and in flats, so the range of people’s actual current need, I would guess, is very diverse. So for some people it’s very, very, very important. And it does always work out. Never have people gone away hungry. There is always food, and it’s always good.
I really love teas or admin, because then you do a task, and you get to sing. I hadn’t realised, when I volunteered, that you would get to sing as well, so it’s been a complete delight. One minute you’re making people tea and coffee and the next minute you’re standing up there singing; and if you’re singing beside someone, or sharing words, or exchanging the odd glance, or whatever, it changes the relationship and it’s really good. It’s really nice. It’s much less ‘us and them’.
I worked in social care for thirty years. I was managing residential and day services for elder people with dementia, and then I went into inspection of all residential nursing homes and domiciliary care agencies. I took voluntary redundancy and a friend of mine said ‘I know what we should do – go and see this homeless choir’ and I was like ‘meh’. It was the Christmas gig and I just had the most wonderful time and was just absolutely determined that I wanted to be involved in it somehow or other.
What I love, I think, is the total unexpectedness of The Choir With No Name and also the people. I feel very humble… when people talk to you and you hear about people’s lives, you just think ‘well, I’m so lucky, and my kids are so lucky’. People have to really struggle. What they have to face every day is huge. Sometimes I don’t know how they do it, actually. People have great challenges. And people come here, and, in general, get on very well, are supportive, and sing – and sing wonderfully.
Everybody has an opportunity. Some people have the gift of a great voice, and other people really like singing. And people have solos, and the audience can go wobbly at the knees from some people’s solos, and from other people’s solos you can almost feel the energy both from within the choir and in the audience wanting them to get through it and enjoy it. And that is sufficient to make it a wonderful experience for everybody. For people to feel confident enough to stop the song and start again if it’s not going right – I think that’s amazing. To stand in front of an audience and say ‘stop – can we start again?’: I think that’s incredible. In the other bits of their lives they’re really struggling. So Marie gives everybody the ability for it all to be fine.