Choir With No name is a charity that encourages people affected by homelessness to discover the joys of singing, the choir is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.
Ten years ago choir director Marie Benton placed a series of posters in London homeless shelters inviting rough sleepers to join a new singing group.
A strong believer in the power of choirs to build communities, Benton wanted to create a safe and non-judgemental space where homeless people could experience the joys of group singing. But would rough sleepers, who tend to lead peripatetic lifestyles, turn up to regular rehearsals?
That question was answered at the first choir meeting in Kings Cross, London, when a handful of brave souls came along and the Choir With No Name (CWNN) was born. Ten years on about 160 people sing with CWNN’s London, Birmingham and Liverpool choirs each week.
Benton says: “I thought one of the biggest challenges would be the transient nature of people’s lives but that’s not turned out to be the case. We have a core group of people who turn up every week.
“It’s beautiful watching them find and develop their voice. Being homeless can make you feel you don’t have an identity. What we’re doing is challenging the stigma associated with being homeless.”
Not only does CWNN help people affected by homelessness experience the pure joy of singing, it helps them build support networks and gain confidence and a sense of identity.
But it hasn’t always been easy. “The first six or seven years were an amazing rollercoaster,” Benton says. “We started choirs in Birmingham and Liverpool. It was challenging but it felt like everything was going our way. Then it seemed to get more difficult to secure funding and we had to really focus on keeping the current choirs going.”
After much hard work to secure a sustainable funding base and working partnerships with homeless charities, CWNN is ready to expand again. A fourth choir will start in Brighton in the coming months.
Benton says: “We’re in a very good place so it’s exciting to celebrate our tenth anniversary. Looking back, I think our biggest achievement is that we’re there for people every week. People look forward to it. It feels like their place.
“All our choirs are different – they have different choir directors, volunteers and personalities – but all are welcoming and joyous. The members feel like they’ve found a family.”
To make a donation to help Choir With No Name continue its good work visit: choirwithnoname.org