Our members: Just Sing! Community Choir

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Our member, Just Sing! is a fun, friendly and fabulously relaxed community choir based in Stevenage. Their ethos is one very much of inclusion, as there are no auditions and you don’t need to be able to read music or have any experience to join. Everything is taught ‘by ear’ so no one is at a disadvantage, even if they’ve never sung before and don’t read music. Fees are kept deliberately low, and special arrangements can be made for those who need help.

The group sings all kinds of songs, from classical to pop, from folk to rock, as well as show tunes and favourites from musicals. Everyone’s tastes are covered, and the choir have a wide repertoire, from classics like Tallis’ Canon to Fix You by Coldplay. Members also benefit from lessons all about breathing and vocal technique from their accomplished Musical Director, Penny Manser. The idea is to enjoy improving your singing whilst meeting new people and building confidence at the same time.

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Just Sing! began in Autumn 2009, (then known as Singing for the Terrified) after the library staff at East and North Herts NHS Trust saw the BBC’s The Choir with Gareth Malone, and were inspired to organise a singing event of their own. Aware that many people would like to sing, but are too nervous to join an established choir (usually because they can’t read music or haven’t sung before), the event was intended for anyone who wanted to sing regardless of whether or not they had any experience.

Their first singing session as a group took place in April 2010, with Michael Price directing around 35 people to sing Ticket to Ride by the Beatles, I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables and Bridge Over Troubled Water by Paul Simon. Michael is a composer and music editor who works on film and TV scores, most famously for the BBC TV series “Sherlock”. The day was such a success that the group has grown and grown ever since, now boasting 60 members!

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The choir’s first public performance was at David’s Bookshop Christmas Fayre, in Letchworth in November 2010, and since then they have performed at the Bennington Lordship, Anglesey Abbey, Wimpole Hall and the Hatfield Galleria. 

Just Sing! now meet for rehearsals every Thursday during term time with Musical Director Penny Manser, and are always delighted to welcome new members. There are opportunities for choir members to sing solos or duets at concerts, but for those who are less confident every new member is given a ‘buddy’ from the existing members to welcome them and help them get into the swing of things.

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This year is set to be the most exciting yet for Just Sing! as the choir is taking part in a new project with Letchworth based composer Alison Wrenn. During the Summer they will be recording and performing 50 minutes of new songs for a community choirs songbook project called Sing For Our Planet. Six specially chosen composers will also be liaising with local community choirs, culminating in a massed choirs performance in the Summer of 2015.

New members are always heartily welcomed to Just Sing! and you can go along to the community hall at North Herts College on Monkswood Way in Stevenage to try your first session for free….the rehearsal schedule can be found on the Just Sing! website here. Also look out for updates on the website for their “Singers’ Night” in April, as well as upcoming themed workshops such as African Gospel and “Abbatastic”!

And if that’s not enough to convince you, why not have a look at some of the videos made by choir members who wanted to share the experiences with the choir?

Our Members: Dr Hadwen Trust

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Our member, The Dr Hadwen Trust (DHT) is the UK’s leading non-animal medical research charity, funding and promoting the development of new techniques to replace the use of animals in medical research.

The Dr Hadwen Trust helps scientists to implement existing techniques and develop new ones which are more human-relevant and replace animal experiments. Funded solely by charitable donations, the DHT has awarded grants to over 160 research projects since 1971 for some of the most advanced and successful human-related techniques in the most diverse areas of research including cancer, Alzheimer’s, asthma, kidney, heart and liver disease and diabetes, amongst many others.

The Trustees of the charity, which was founded in 1970, had two main goals: to play a major role in funding non-animal replacement research, and to nurture widespread support for this. The DHT is still focused on these key principals and continues to demonstrate that cutting-edge research methodologies have led to significant advances and innovations in pursuit of more human relevant approaches without the use of animals.

Later this month, The DHT are hosting a fundraising Curry and Quiz Night at Hitchin Boys’ School, on Friday 31st January. Entrance is just £10 per person, which will go towards their continued work and development. Teams of up to six are invited to come along from 7pm, and also enjoy a full bar and raffle, as well as a vegan friendly curry supper.

Booking is essential, so call 01462 436819 or go to their website to buy your ticket and find more information.

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New Year’s Resolution: Fun and flexible volunteering with Time Bank

When I moved to North Hertfordshire from London last year, I was determined to become a part of the community. There’s not much in the way of neighbourlyness in London, and I really wanted to get to know some new people in my new home town. A friend of mine told me about the local Time Bank, and having heard of the concept before I was keen to join in, and made it a New Year’s Resolution to get involved!

The idea of Time Banking is to bring the community together and give people a really flexible way to volunteer. The best part is that for every hour I give of my time, I get one back! This means that if I, say, give one hour to a member running errands for them, I then get to ‘bank’ that hour and ‘spend’ it on something for myself, like having a member look after my dogs whilst I go out.

There are Time Bank members with all kinds of skills, and I signed up for a real variety when I joined as I was keen to get involved in as many things as possible. Lots of people say that they don’t have any skills to share, but they are always able to think of several things in the end, as all skills are valuable to the Time Bank and the membership is so varied. I offer my crafting and IT skills, sewing and mending, and errand running….although I’ve been called on to help with various other things too! A regular list of requests is sent out, so you can pick and choose what you get involved in, plus you get the chance to put in requests for things you’d like too.

My first exchanges were altering and mending some clothing for other members, which saved them the expense of going to an alteration shop and meant I could bank a few hours very easily and quickly. I was then asked to get involved in some of the family fun days Time Bank runs, and offered to teach children various crafts on the day. It was lovely to help out at such a vibrant and inclusive event, and a brilliant way to earn time credits. After that, I ran some errands for a gentleman who was temporarily house bound, delivering post for him and collecting a bit of shopping.

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I was also delighted to get involved in the Time Bank ‘Knit and Natter’ group’s ‘Yarn Bomb’ project, where a group of volunteers knitted and crocheted patches, then pieced them together to cover a local sculpture. It certainly created a lot of interest and I can’t wait to get involved in this year’s project!

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Next was a lesson in applying make-up for a member who wanted to know more about modern cosmetic products and techniques. The lady came to my home as I don’t drive, and we sat and chatted over a cup of tea whilst I showed her some of the makeup I use and how I apply it. Once our Time Bank Development Worker, Nicki, had made the initial introduction, it was all set up between the two of us, and at a time that worked for us both.

And that’s what’s so great about Time Banking….it’s so completely flexible! I can give as much or as little time as I like, when and where I want to. Sometimes I have more time to spare than others, so I can get involved in more. But when I’m too busy, I don’t have to commit myself to any particular amount of work as I can just fit the volunteering around me.

My most recent exchanges have been great fun too, and a brilliant challenge. I was asked to re-upholster a foot stool for one member, and although I’d done this before I really enjoyed developing this skill and getting some practice in.

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Then I was booked to paint a mural on a member’s wall at her home, which was just an amazing opportunity and wonderful fun!

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I think what I love most about Time Banking is the variety. As you can see, I’ve been involved in all manner of things and got to meet a fabulous range of new people. No two assignments are the same, and that keeps my volunteering exciting and challenging, as well as really rewarding.

So there’s no question about what my New Year’s Resolution for this year will be….I’ll certainly be aiming to get involved in more skills exchanges and even more varied ones too! I’ve already got my next exchange lined up….I’ll be helping another member to set up a Blog soon. And as I’m getting married in May, I’m saving my banked hours to get some help setting up the reception venue and having my dogs looked after whilst we’re away!

If you’re looking to get more involved in your community, get active, help others out or just to meet new people, deciding to join the Time Bank is the perfect New Year’s Resolution! So, if you’re interested in flexible volunteering, join Time Bank for free in North Herts, Stevenage, Buntingford or Royston, by visiting  http://www.mytimebank.org.uk/ or contacting timebank@nhcvs.org.uk

A post by Time Bank Member Emily