Charity grant helped group to continue to raise a song and a smile
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2017
They say that life is a song.
But for one member of a group which gets people to raise their voices for wellbeing, it was singing which saved his life.
Chris Bridgman was a founding member of Sing Your Heart Out (SYHO) which offers singing sessions to help people feel better about themselves in all sorts of ways.
And Mr Bridgeman said he did not think he would be here if he hadn't found the group.
'I came first because I'd had a big eye operation,' said the 66-year-old, who lives in East Runton and is blind.
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'I was feeling really depressed and singing is always something I had done. Singing for me is a life line. I've gone from sitting around at home all the time to now being active, my wife said it's reinstated me to how I was before.'
Mr Bridgman, who had long term retinal problems, said when his sight deteriorated he 'really thought [his] life was over,' but that SYHO had given him purpose.
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Ruth Emerson, secretary of the Norwich group, which meets at the Phoenix Centre in Mile Cross Road, said the group was unique in that there was no pressure. There are also groups in Great Yarmouth, King's Lynn, and Attleborough – with new session starting in north Norfolk soon.
'The first thing is we're not a choir,' she said. 'We do wellbeing singing workshops where people can drop in when they like. There are no auditions, you don't need to be able to read music – or even read at all.'
The groups are led by professional voice coaches, and were originally targeted at those suffering with mental health problems, such as 40-year-old Jamie Lisk who had been attending the sessions consistently for two years.
He said: 'I started coming along when someone else I knew was going, I'd never thought of myself as a singing person. I was in a bit of a bad place at the time, I had anxiety and depression, and I was hoping it would help me and it did.'
Mr Lisk said not only had the sessions improved his mood, but the social aspect of the workshops was beneficial. 'When we're singing, you're on a bit of a high. But for me it's not really the singing it's seeing people. There's no stigma, there's no discrimination.'
But Ms Emerson – who has been involved in the group for around five years and used the service herself – said now, the groups welcomed anyone over 18.
'It's for anybody who wants to improve their wellbeing.'.
And research conducted by the University of East Anglia (UEA), released in May last year, showed it was working.
Julia Rumsby, chair of the Norwich group, added: 'One of the key things is it is low commitment, high benefit. There are plenty of opportunities for people to sing at a high level whereas this is much more inclusive, supportive and flexible.'
With the organisers of the groups being volunteers, SYHO needs to raise money to cover venue coasts and payment of voice coaches.
And were previously given a grant of £500 by Comic Relief to go towards this.
'It's the ongoing running costs because we don't have the assets,' Ms Rumsby added.
Attending the group has also helped Elizabeth Pearce, 85, and her 71-year-old partner Gregory Allard.
Ms Pearce, who suffers with Alzheimer's comes from a singing background.
She said: 'It helps me with my terrible memory. When I first came I thought I could not sing anymore, but the way they make us sound is unbelievable.'
Lee Jeffries, 79, found when she was suffering physically, singing helped her escape.
'When everything else is closing down, singing is something you can still do,' she said. 'As you get older there are some things you have to give up, but this is something I can still do.'
• Deserving community groups like SYHO shared almost £40,000 in charity cash last year, distributed by this newspaper in association with the Norfolk Community Foundation and Comic Relief – and this year we've teamed up again. If your group would benefit from a grant of up to £1,000, more details will be announced on March 24.
• For more information on SYHO visit www.syho.org