At the end of 2009, we felt sure that the next step in our lives was to go and plant a Vineyard Church (‘church planting’ basically means starting a church from scratch)! This led us to Ashford in Kent, where even though we didn’t know a single person, it felt that like the perfect place for the adventure to take shape! Whilst visiting Ashford to make some enquiries about the area, we sat in our hotel room at the end of a long day and switched on the TV. The familiar face of choir master extraordinaire, Gareth Malone, was on the screen in a series called ‘The Unsung Town’. We found ourselves gripped by what we saw! In essence, a man turning up in a town with very little community spirit and people with little sense of pride in their town, and bringing about a total shift not only in the lives of individuals, but the community as a whole. How did he do it? He started a community choir which anyone could come and be a part of! As the programme ended, we turned to one another and said ‘Do you think we could do that?’, and agreed that it sounded like a great fit for the vision we had for making Ashford a place known for its thriving community. Chris has a degree in music from Dartington College of Arts so felt up for the challenge of all things musical, and I (Nic) agreed that I’d be excited to get involved with the ‘people’ side of things in terms of welcome, refreshments and building community.
We upped and moved our lives from Southend to Ashford in the summer of 2010 and ended up launching the choir in the October. For us, it was really important that in moving to the town to plant a church we didn’t start by requiring things from people, but instead invested our energy in giving something as a free gift to that community. We had anticipated that we’d start with a choir of about 20 people, but ended up having 80 people show up to our first rehearsal and immediately we were thrilled to see how excited people were to be a part of this new adventure! Over the years we’ve grown to 240 members and have seen many, many more people come and join us for a season or so before embarking on something new. The sense of family and community has developed beyond anything we could have dreamed of and Ashford Sings! remains a key part of what we are doing in our local community to this day.
At the start of 2016, we attended the Vineyard National Leaders Conference where a short film was shown about Ashford Sings! and Ashford Vineyard. This generated lots of interest from other leaders about whether they could start something similar in their own communities, and that is where the vision for UK Sings! was birthed! Through these conversations with others and many more between us, we recognised that the Sings! model of launching and developing a singing community was something that could easily by replicated in other towns across the UK, and maybe one day even further! And so, we are now excited to see how UK Sings! can bring life to communities far and wide as people come together over a shared love of singing, belong to a huge family and welcoming community, and experience the joy of singing and doing life together.
To create and sustain a growing national network of local singing communities, where people thrive and communities are strengthened.
Each UK Sings! choir should be a place where:
- Everyone is continually made to feel welcome and that they matter.
- There are no auditions for entry and no age restrictions; just a love of singing is needed
- A sense of community is fostered and nurtured (see chapter on Building Community)
- There are no super choirs – ‘We perform as one choir’ – the bigger the choir the easier it is to get broken up – no cliques
- Gigs matter – both to strengthen the choir and to offer something to the wider community.
- People are encouraged and resourced to give the best of themselves, particularly as singers – just because it’s a non-auditioned choir, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for excellence musically and visually.
- The choir should engage with the local community – part of the vision is to give something back to the local area e.g. through gigs, charity sponsorship etc.