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!”
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.
Alerts issued ahead of Storm Brian
NATURAL RESOURCE WALES (NRW) is warning people that parts of the Welsh coast could see localised flooding as Storm Brian combines with high tides this evening and tomorrow.
The conditions could cause a storm surge, which in some areas could lead to overtopping of sea defences. Current predictions show that the worst affected areas are likely to be along exposed sections of the west coast of Wales from Southern Gwynedd to Llantwit Major.
High tides in these locations are expected to peak between 6am and 11am tomorrow (Oct 21).
NRW has already issued a number of flood alerts for the west coast, and is likely to issue flood warnings for Aberystwyth and Newgale later today. Further alerts or warnings for other areas will be issued as necessary.
24/7 Emergency response workers from NRW will be out at key areas of the coast over the next couple of day to monitor the high tides and condition of its sea flood defences.
NRW has also contacted its partner agencies such as local councils and the emergency services to ensure that appropriate responses are in place should the need arise.
Richard Hancox, from Natural Resources Wales said: “Conditions across the coastline are likely to be extremely dangerous this weekend and we urge people to stay clear, and avoid visiting the coast during this time.
“We know people are tempted to try and take photos of these storms, but it really isn’t worth putting your life at risk. Sea spray and flood water can knock you off your feet easier than you might think, and the large waves can send debris flying onto shore.
“If anyone is concerned about the risk of flooding to their home, please check to see if flood warnings are available in your area, and visit our website for advice on how best to prepare.”
Flood alerts and flood warnings are updated on the Natural Resources Wales website every 15 minutes.
Information and updates are also available by calling Floodline on 0345 988 1188. People can also register for free flood warnings either by calling the Floodline number or at NRW’s website.
Major bequests for Aber research
TWO major legacies to support postgraduate research have been announced at Aberystwyth University’s Founders’ Day held in the Old College on October 13.
The University revealed that Eleanor and David James had donated £2m to the institution where they both worked for 35 years, while former student Margaret Wooloff has bequeathed £400,000.
Both bequests will be used to fund postgraduate research at the University, in line with the wishes of the benefactors.
The legacies were announced as part of the University’s now annual Founders’ event, which echoes the celebrations held in the town back in October 1872 when the first students arrived at Old College.
The Vice-Chancellor of Aberystwyth University, Professor Elizabeth Treasure, said: “It is extremely fitting that these very special bequests have been the focal point of this year’s Founders’ Day event. They remind us how the University has been supported since its early beginnings by the generosity of the people of Wales and the wider world.
“Eleanor and David James, and Margaret Wooloff all dedicated their lives to the furtherance of knowledge and their valuable contributions to education in Wales will live on in their legacies. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude.”
The Director of Development and Alumni Relations at Aberystwyth University, Louise Jagger, said: “There is a very strong bond between the University and our family of alumni across the world. Eleanor and David James and Margaret Wooloff were all active members of the Old Students’ Association during their lives and we are immensely grateful to them for their support over the years. Their generous legacies will now enable the scholars of the future to pursue their particular fields of expertise and undertake research with impact, which is integral to our mission as a leading University.”
Members of the local community joined staff and students at the Old College to mark Founders’ Day.
The guest speaker at the event was Ceredigion MP Ben Lake who said: “The story of how Aberystwyth University – or the University College of Wales as it was originally called – is one in which we can all take pride as a nation. Driven by the vision of its founders, the dream of establishing a college with University status in Wales was made possible thanks to the generosity of ordinary people. The roots and foundations of the University reflect our values in Wales and it is vitally important that we commemorate and celebrate this very special heritage.
“May I take this opportunity to congratulate Aberystwyth on being named recently as the University of the Year for Teaching Quality by the Good University Guide – a well deserved accolade which is testament to the dedication of all its staff.”
In July 2017, the Heritage Lottery Fund announced that it had earmarked £10.5m for ambitious plans to redevelop Old College in time for the University’s 150th anniversary in 2022.
Driving Wales to international skills success
AS SKILLS CHAMPION for Wales, Coleg Sir Gâr and Coleg Ceredigion principal Barry Liles is at the forefront of aspiring young people to develop high quality, world-class skills.
The vehicle used to drive this ambition are skills competitions, which are held on a Welsh, UK and international level.
Competitions in Wales begin with regional Welsh Government supported competitions which are events that culminate to find Wales’ top competitors who progress to take part in UKSkills national and WorldSkills international events.
This year, 36 competitors from the UK are competing at WorldSkills Abu Dhabi, four of which are from Wales, two of which represent Coleg Sir Gâr, which is an impressive percentage of UK representation. These competitors have undergone a rigorous training process by WorldSkills UK, supported by training providers and employers.
Coleg Sir Gâr students have been selected for Team UK since 2009 when carpentry student Cliff Williams made the team in 2009 competing in WorldSkills Calgary. He was followed by web designer David Bowen who competed for in WorldSkills London, 2011. Carpenter Gareth Jones won gold in EuroSkills in 2012 followed by Simon McCall and Eleni Constantinou who won two silvers at EuroSkills in 2014 for hairdressing and carpentry with Eleni progressing to represent the UK and Coleg Sir Gâr in hairdressing at WorldSkills, Sao Paulo in 2015.
Last year, the college was ranked joint third place in the UK for its medal success in the Skills Show – the UK final, for achieving three golds, one silver and one bronze award. The show, held at Birmingham’s NEC every year, brings together medal winners from all nations to compete and showcase their skills and to hopefully continue their journey to the international arena, representing the UK in Worldskills which brings over 50 competing countries together and is likened to the Olympic games.
Barry Liles, Skills Champion for Wales said: “To have an impact on the economy and raise Wales and UK’s GVA, we must raise the skills of the UK population and we’re trying to do this from a young age and we’re significantly targeting industries that are important to Wales’ economy.
“The anticipated result is hoped to impact on young people and help them raise their ambitions and to find highly skilled work.”
In Wales, to help achieve this ambition, is a Welsh-Government funded project called Inspiring Skills Excellence (ISE), which is providing a supportive infrastructure to enable competitors from Wales to achieve success at national and international level.
“Much of our work is supporting competitors across Wales in their participation, training and mentoring to help them achieve excellence in skills relevant to economic growth and delivering medal winning success at national and international competitions,” said Paul Evans, ISE pan-coordinator for Wales.
“Using state of the art equipment we also engage with schools, providing hands-on and exciting experiences for young people to raise awareness of careers and the pathways available to them.”
Barry Liles added: “Being Skills Champion for Wales is a long-held ambition perhaps because I came from a vocational engineering background, I am very passionate about it.
“Industry skills are vital in our economy and I don’t want Wales to be left behind, in fact in the last seven years we have helped drive the nation forward to being one of the leading and successful nations in UK skills competitions.”
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