11 October 2019

Homelessness is one of the most starkly visible issues in the UK. From the streets of our capital city to smaller, far-flung towns, homelessness is present and pervasive.

One charity combatting the effects of homelessness and providing support for those in need is the Choir with No Name, an organisation which runs choirs for homeless and marginalised people in London, Brighton, Birmingham and Liverpool.

The choirs aim to support its members, help people to make friends and find a place to belong, alongside building up confidence and life skills.

In celebration of World Homeless Day, the choir released a single; a heart-warming cover of ‘This Is Me’ from The Greatest Showman. 

Marie Benton, Founder and Chief Executive of the Choir with No Name, has written exclusively for ES Magazine about the organisation and its new release, as well as the root causes of homelessness and the challenges that face those who are.

"When we chose the song for the charity single, it sparked a debate; what’s our most important message?

"We toyed with the idea of ‘With a little help from my friends’, because we build community and spark friendships. We considered ‘Happy Together’ because we enable our choir members to experience something warm, welcoming and joyful each week. But we settled on ‘This Is Me’; a powerful anthem about stepping out of the shadows and being proud of who you are; because we want to challenge preconceptions about homeless people. 

"One of those preconceptions may be that homeless people are all the same; tragic figures hunkered down in a doorway.  We want the world to know that we’re not a homogenous mass of ‘the homeless’; we’re individuals, with different stories to tell. Some of those stories are tragic – some are comic – others just a bit banal.  But homelessness, whether it be rough sleeping or a less visible form, isn’t a personality trait; it’s a circumstance that can be overcome, with the right support. 

"There is also often a preconception that we’re all just a couple of paychecks away from homelessness ourselves. This may be meant well, but it over-simplifies the issue. Personally, I’m lucky enough to guess that my family and friends would step in to help until I was back on my feet. 

"Most of our choir members are lacking that essential safety net, for a whole myriad of different reasons. Many had a rough start in life, growing up without a safe, loving family or a decent education. Seeing homelessness as a personal issue, rather than the result of a failing system, is another assumption we want to turn on its head. 

"We often use the word ‘marginalised’ to describe our choir members, because it provides a handy short hand for the myriad of different challenges going on for them. The margins on a page draw a literal line; the word conjures a physical barrier between ‘them’ and ‘us’. 

"At the Choir with No Name we do all we can to break down that barrier and enable our choir members to feel human again. We are all just sopranos, altos, tenors and basses. We sing and we eat together and we support each other’s goals and aspirations, musical or otherwise. 

"‘This Is Me’ has given us the opportunity to celebrate our diversity and individual glory. ‘I am brave, I am bruised, I am who I’m meant to be; this is me’." For more information and to get involved in the This Is Me campaign, go to thisisme.org.uk.

Source: Evening Standard