A choir made up of stroke survivors, charity staff, volunteers, health professionals and family members has won a national award, for the impact it makes to local people affected by stroke.
The Stroke Association’s ‘Stroke Group Award’ was presented to the charity’s North West Community Stroke Choir by Stephanie Beacham, Mark Goodier and Baroness Benjamin, at the Life After Stroke Awards ceremony at the Landmark Hotel in London on 21 November 2018.
Choir founder Joyce Booth said: “The award means even more to us now than ever, because we have had a really difficult year. We had a couple of bereavements but the Life After Stroke Award has really lifted us and given us something positive to look forward to. Being a member of a choir, you’re in it together, you feel supported and you share that experience, whether it’s a performance, a challenge or an award win. That matters a lot, it gives people confidence.”
Joyce, a Support Coordinator for the Stroke Association in Tameside, had the idea for the choir in 2014. She was supporting stroke survivor Ann Williams, a singer/songwriter and struggling to find something that would really motivate her.
She was inspired after meeting another stroke coordinator at the local hospital who was choir member. Joyce asked her stroke group if anyone wanted to try a singing session and the idea was really popular. The initial plan was for a six week project, but the choir is still going strong four years on with around 30 members.
Joyce said: “Even at the start, the group were encouraged not only to sing but to perform in public, which really helps focus builds our confidence. The choir is always working towards their next gig and trying new things to keep the repertoire fresh. It’s addictive! It’s really taken over my life. We sing acapella, and we sing everything. We perform songs that Ann wrote before her stroke; she’s still a fundamental part of the group and her daughter now sings with us too.”
After performing at Salford Royal Hospital, the choir acquired funding which meant they could hire practice venues and employ a musical director, Carol Donaldson, which really established them.
Joyce said of Carol: “She’s been at the heart of getting us to where we are, right from the beginning. We sing in events alongside other choirs that don’t have any disabilities. Often people don’t realise that we are different because Carol understands how to work with stroke survivors so well and gets the best out of us. She keeps us all motivated and makes it really special and fun.”
Now, the group is in high demand with around 30 regular singers and invitations to perform gigs all over the country. Choir members come from all over the North West and practice in two venues, Crescent Road Community Centre in Stockport and Z Arts in Hulme. The choir also performed at the Life After Stroke Awards, in front of more than 250 guests.
Joyce added: “New people often say how welcoming the group is and for a lot of the stroke survivors who come, it’s the first thing they’ve done which isn’t medical or therapy, it’s just for fun and that makes them feel more themselves. Although it’s a stroke choir, we don’t sit around talking about stroke, we’re all just getting together to do an activity that we love. I had one lady who came and said that the choir had given her the first reason to smile since her stroke. It’s wonderful that we have this recognition because we are so proud of our group. It’s really lovely other people value what we do too.”
Stephanie Beacham, who presented the choir with their award, said: “It is a real joy to be asked to present the choir with this award. They do so much to showcase that there is life after stroke, bringing joy and pleasure to many people’s lives. Their passion and energy is truly infectious. It was a delight to see them perform and I wish them the very best of luck with their no doubt glittering future.”
The Stroke Association North West Community Stroke Choir is also supporting the Stroke Association’s Christmas appeal, ‘I am more than my stroke’. The appeal raises money so the charity can help more stroke survivors live with the impact of their stroke because it may have changed their lives but it doesn’t need to define who they are as person. Visit stroke.org.uk/iammore to make a donation.