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Lottery funding for street choirs project

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Lotte Reimer: With members of Côr Gobaith on Remembrance Sunday

HAVE YOU SEEN the woman who sings the streets of London? On Thursday, December 8, Lotte Reimer from Blaenplwyf hopped on the bus to the UK’s capital to busk at Earl’s Court.

That same night, she joined up with a group of people singing outside the tube station to raise money for Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP). In truth, Lotte’s adventure was about interviewing members of this street choir than busking as an extreme long-distance sport! That said, she told The Herald she was very glad to be able to contribute a little towards the often forgotten cause of people suffering in Palestine, where MAP is working across the West Bank and Gaza and in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. Lotte is part of a project to interview members of street choirs from all around the UK. Although they get little or no media attention, street choirs sing regularly in many communities from Edinburgh to Brighton and from Aberystwyth to Whitby. Funded by the Sharing Heritage strand of the National Lottery, Lotte’s project is unusual in that it sets out to record oral histories of street choirs throughout the UK. Typically, Sharing Heritage projects focus on the history of one place-based community, for instance a village, rather than a network spread across places in different nations.

Lotte told The Herald: “It’s difficult to fully define what a street choir is. Obviously, they sing in the street! Community choirs are great, but the street choirs that we’re interested in for this oral history project are definitely political; they are out there all the time singing for campaigns and causes. Many of them have been around for decades. Lots have working class origins, coming out of initiatives like the Workers Education Association or the Clarion movement. Raised Voices, whom I sang with at Earl’s Court in London, sing for peace, justice and the environment, and against militarism, capitalism, racism and sexism. The choir is based in North London and has been in existence since 1986. They have more than 25 members, and we managed to interview five of them this weekend – old-stagers, beginners and some in between. It was very busy!”

CAMPAIGN CHOIRS

Apart from interviewing members of Raised Voices, Lotte somehow found time to interview a former member of Velvet Fist. Now disbanded, Velvet Fist were a well-known feminist women’s choir founded in 1983 as part of an arts project organised by the Communist Party. Finally, Lotte also managed to get to a rehearsal with Strawberry Thieves, an activist choir based in Telegraph Hill, South-East London.

The oral history project which Lotte is co-ordinating is called ‘Singing for Our Lives’ and will, ultimately, record the oral histories of more than 40 members of at least 10 different street choirs. Apart from Raised Voices, Strawberry Thieves and Velvet Fist in London, the project has already interviewed members of Liverpool Socialist Singers and the sharply named Red Leicester. In the coming months, Lotte will visit Sheffield to interview Sheffield Socialist Singers and the LGBTQ choir Out Aloud.

She will also trek up to Edinburgh to interview members of radical singing group Protest in Harmony. Supported by online resources, the main output of the project will be a book introducing ‘stories from the street choirs’ to a much wider public.

Lotte told us: “The aim is to share these amazing personal stories and encourage more people to get into singing with their local political communities. It’s such a great way to support local and international campaigns, to meet people and sing with them. We’re also hoping we can learn something about how street choirs themselves can attract new people, especially younger people and people from a wider range of ethnic groups. Even the London choirs were mainly older people and mostly white faces! We also want to explore ways that choirs can work together more, sharing songs, knowledge and skills, and coming together as combined choirs to sing at actions and national demonstrations. We have an initiative, Campaign Choirs, which is taking a lead on increasing cooperation between choirs. Also, many choirs simply struggle to get enough basses – they just need more men, basically! Most street choirs believe everyone can sing and people don’t need to be able to read music or to be experienced singers to join. No one needs to be scared or shy.”

STREET CHOIRS IN WALES

In 2013, Côr Gobaith, in which Lotte sings, hosted the annual Street Choirs Festival in Aberystwyth, an event which many Herald readers will remember fondly. The Festival in Aberystwyth attracted some 50 choirs and hundreds of people to the town for a glorious, sun-blessed weekend in the middle of July. Beginning in Sheffield in 1983 as the ‘National Street Band Festival’, the breakaway Street Choirs Festival seeks to ‘put the music into protest to make it more creative, joyful and thought-provoking’. The ambition is to help create a world free of oppression, exploitation and violence. With its roots in the north of England, the Street Choirs Festival has blossomed across the UK, being staged every year in a different town or city. In Aberystwyth, the Festival took place in the Arts Centre over a very full weekend that included a ‘mass sing’ with all the choirs gathered on the seafront.

Perhaps Wales’ most famous contemporary street choir is Cardiff’s near legendary Côr Cochion Caerdydd. Since 1983, ‘Cardiff Reds Choir’ have sung, ‘campaigning for peace, freedom and justice’. In the process, they have raised many thousands of pounds to support people in the UK and abroad who are struggling against hardship and oppression. Lotte Reimer told The Herald: “We’re certainly going to interview members of Côr Cochion for the Singing for Our Lives project. They are amazing activists and have actually been to sing in places like Ireland during the Troubles and in Palestine. I remember Ray Davies, one of South Wales’ most colourful and dedicated political characters. In his trademark red beret, Ray was a staunch member of Côr Cochion until he died last year. It’s stories like Ray’s that we don’t want to miss out on recording and sharing.”

IDEAS IN ACTION

Back in Aberystwyth, at lunchtime on Saturday (Dec 10), Lotte’s comrades in Côr Gobaith joined in the singing outside the Christmas Fair, held at Medina restaurant on Market Street. The singing raised £70 for Mind and Blood Bikes.

Happy to be home, Lotte Reimer was also a little sad to have missed out on singing with her own beloved choir: “Still, you can’t do everything!” – although Lotte does seem to try her level best!

To find out more about Singing for Our Lives, visit www.singing4ourlives.net.

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Mark Drakeford named next First Minister

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THE NEXT First Minister of Wales will be Mark Drakeford, it has been announced this afternoon (Dec 6).

Mr Drakeford, a Cardiff West AM, was named as the winner of the Welsh Labour leadership contest at the Principality Stadium.

The contest was triggered when Carwyn Jones, the current First Minister, announced he was stepping down.

Mr Jones will officially step down on Tuesday (Dec 10).

Mr Drakeford will then be officially confirmed as the new First Minister of Wales by the National Assembly next week.

In the first round of voting, the results were:

Mark Drakeford – 46.9%
Vaughan Gething – 30.8%
Eluned Morgan – 22.3%

Eluned Morgan’s votes were then redistributed on voters’ second preferences, with the following results:

Mark Drakeford – 53.9%
Vaughan Gethin – 46.1%

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Met Office issue yellow weather warning for Friday morning

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THE MET OFFICE has warned of strong winds and heavy rain across South and West Wales as they have issued a yellow weather warning for rain on Friday (Dec 7).

Between 1am and 9am, spells of rain, heavy at times and accompanied by windy weather, are likely to produce 20-40mm of rain.

Coming after some recent wet weather, this rain is likely to lead to some temporary flooding impacts before the rain clears early Friday morning.

The Met Office are warning people that flooding of a few homes and business is likely, bus and train services, as well as roads, will probably be affected, with journey times taking longer.

Natural Resources Wales also has a flood alert in place in Pembrokeshire. Due to restrictions at the tidal outfall, river levels in the River Ritec in the Salterns area of Tenby are likely to remain high for a number of days.

River levels are rising slightly as each high tide arrives. The combination of ground conditions, existing river levels and forecast rainfall quantities gives a high risk of flooding of low-lying land during the next couple of days.

This comes a week after Yellow Weather Warnings were issued across Wales as Storm Diana brought extreme winds and heavy rain to the country.

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PCSOs celebrated in police campaign

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PCSO Iona Jones-Kenny

A campaign recognising Police Community Support Officers and the value they add to policing in Wales is being celebrated for its second year next week (Dec 10-14).

Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) work on the front line providing a visible and reassuring presence on streets throughout the country.

The campaign, called #ThoseInBlue, is being supported by Dyfed-Powys Police, South Wales Police, Gwent Police, North Wales Police and British Transport Police. All week they will be showcasing the work of their PCSOs and recognising the vital role they play.

PCSOs are the eyes and ears of police in communities – building trust and gathering information that is crucial to tackling crime and antisocial behaviour.

Dyfed-Powys Police’s Temporary Deputy Chief Constable, Richard Lewis, leads the portfolio for PCSOs in Wales.  He said: “PCSOs are an integral part of the police family. It is different to being a warranted Police Officer, and is a job in its own right.

“PCSOs are not only the eyes and ears in our communities, but also help tackle problems which cause the most concern for people living in Wales.

“PCSOs bring a wide range of skills and experience to the role and in the Dyfed-Powys area we have specialist PCSOs tackling rural crime, cyber crime and antisocial behaviour, and crime reduction experts.

“This Christmas, PCSOs will be a reassuring presence for some of the most vulnerable people living in towns, cities and villages across Wales.”

As part of the campaign, Dyfed-Powys Police Chief Officers will be heading ‘back to the floor’ – going on patrol with PCSOs working across Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire and Powys.

All week PCSOs across Wales will be using #TweetMyWeek on Twitter to showcase the work they do every day that helps keep people safe. Follow the hashtag or keep up with the campaign on Dyfed-Powys Police’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

If you have concerns about crime or antisocial behaviour in your community speak to a PCSO or call 101.

MEET CEREDIGION’S PCSO

Name: PCSO Iona Jones-Kenny

Where you’re stationed: Lampeter

Length of service: Five months

Why did you join: I wanted a new challenge and feel I have a lot of previous experience to bring into the new role.

Best moments: No two days are the same and each day brings up a new challenge.

Interests outside of work: Spending time with the family, walking the dogs, and pool and sea swimming.

Aspirations: To build good links within the community and continue helping people.

Speciality: Working in schools and young people.

Previous experience: Working with children and young people and children in school.

PCSO Matthew Kieboom

Name: PCSO Matthew Kieboom

Where you’re stationed: Out of Cardigan Police Station, covering the rural villages and along the coast – probably one of the most beautiful parts of Cymru.

Length of service: 5 years, six months.

Why did you join: Several reasons:  I live in the middle of the community that I support. When I first moved here it became very obvious that there were strong communities and my wife Debbie and I were quickly welcomed. I wanted to help support and improve/protect those communities. With a uniformed background, when I saw the job advertised, it just called out to me.

Best moment: Hearing the stories from members of my communities who had nominated me for the #WeCare awards – that was very emotional. We go out and do the best we can to support and protect people and often we don’t really know if we are getting it right.

Interests outside of work: Very limited due to having a smallholding! My dogs mean the world to me. I also love kayaking out at sea, swimming and hiking and generally being outdoors enjoying the beautiful area we live in. There is something very mindful about being outside in west Wales, no matter what the weather.

Aspirations: The work a PC does is immense and their opportunities to specialise in different roles and go up the ranks of promotion does appeal, but I have had a successful career in the British Army already and am getting a bit long in the tooth to be competing directly against people half my age or less! I am really content with the difference I am currently making as a PCSO and the support in my role that the communities give me.

Speciality: First Aid instructor with experience of dealing with trauma – there’s nothing I can’t do with a spoon! I’m a Blue Light Mind Champion, LGBT Liaison Officer and Major Incident trained, specialising in Major Medical Incidents.

Previous experience:  Management Degree at Lancaster University followed by British Army Officer for 12 years. I’ve been on numerous Operational Tours specialising in major medical incidents, helped build refugee camps and provided Military Aid to a Civil Authority in York Floods in 2000 and Foot and Mouth Crisis in 2001. Many of the incidents I commanded at either both Bronze or Silver level, providing advice and planning to Gold where appropriate.  Following medical discharge from the Army I had the pleasure of working at Help for Heroes as they first formed as volunteers and were a large part of my recovery process. It took me some 5 years before I was ready for full time employment.

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