Singing has a huge power to unite and uplift people, and the Paul Sartori Hospice at Home community choir makes the most out of that. Founded in April 2022 as Wales started to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, the choir’s aim is to use singing to connect members of the community in and around Haverfordwest, and to increase wellbeing, confidence and self-esteem.
Its first rehearsal welcomed 23 local people – these were not only people involved with Paul Sartori Hospice at Home; the choir is open to all.
“Ensuring accessibility and inclusivity for the whole community (for the young, old and all other groups) was important for all to be able to enjoy the benefits of singing and to share these in an empathetic setting was at its heart,” says Paul Sartori Hospice at Home organiser Judith Williams.
“Singing ability or experience was also something that was not necessary – individuals were, and are welcome, whether they have singing experience or not.”
The Paul Sartori Engagement Team advertised the project to not only its own network of staff, volunteers, voting members, trustees and service users, but also encouraged participation from the wider community through its extensive network of contacts. Some 47 community members have been engaged in the choir since its inception.
This is far from the only important work Paul Sartori Hospice at Home does in the region. A registered charity founded in 1982, it takes its name from a local priest, Father Paul Sartori, who recognised a need for hospice care in Pembrokeshire over 42 years ago.
Sadly, he was diagnosed with cancer himself and died at the early age of 39, in 1980.
“In his memory his friends and parishioners set up the charity – and now 40 years on, we are as passionate as ever in delivering excellent support to end of life patients, their families and carers, never forgetting its roots,” says Judith.
The team provide a wide range of free services to people living in the final stages of any life limiting illness, for example cancer. These services include home nursing care, equipment loan, a standby service, complementary therapy, bereavement and counselling support, anticipatory and bereavement counselling support for under 18s, physiotherapy, and advance care planning.
Over 1,000 patients access one or more of the charity’s services; it delivers around 18,000 hours of hands-on nursing care and over 1,000 items of equipment are delivered to patients’ homes each year.
“Our community outreach is rooted into the charity and includes giving talks/presentations, attending many events in the county, organising our own events – we could not do all this without the support of many individuals and organisations locally,” says Judith.
The idea of founding a Paul Sartori Community Choir had been discussed for many years and these conversations gathered more momentum during 2021.
“This proved timely as we were made aware of the Changemakers Fund,” says Judith. “There were many reasons for applying – the COVID-19 pandemic was taking its toll on the community and our Bereavement and Counselling Team highlighted the benefits of singing on wellbeing – the charity was also coming up to its 40th anniversary celebrations during 2022. These all fitted the application rather nicely.
“We thought, how wonderful it would be for the Paul Sartori Community Choir to be a highlight and feature during the special year. And the Paul Sartori Community Choir’s first public performance was at the Paul Sartori Memorial Event in July, where the choir was well received.”
The funding awarded (£952) contributed towards the total costs for the choir to run for 17 weeks in term time from April – September 2022, ensuring it had an experienced choir director, Vaughn Richardson, and a suitable venue at Vision Arts based in Haverfordwest, near the train station. Once the choir launched, the £510 remaining funds needed to meet the costs were sourced from its members.
The response to the choir has been hugely enthusiastic. One member said:
“I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Despite being very tired some days after work, I have never considered giving it a miss. I have enjoyed it so much and feel invigorated afterwards; for me, much better than sweating it out in the gym! I have met some lovely people who share my ‘wanna be a singer’ ambition! The sessions are friendly, relaxed and to see people smiling again after a gloomy couple of years is uplifting.”
Janine is equally delighted at the positive impact the choir has had.
“It is true that singing, particularly in a choir can significantly impact upon the individual’s wellbeing, and offer a greater sense of belonging and place,” she says. “The benefit to individuals has been overwhelming – many are loving the choir; have not missed a session and enjoy the friendly, relaxed atmosphere of the group. It has widened social networks for many and has been a great opportunity for individuals to reconnect in person again, especially after the COVID-19 lockdowns.”
She adds that the Community Changemakers funding has been essential for the choir’s formation.
“The grant through the Changemakers Fund has enabled the charity to sustainably form the Paul Sartori Community Choir and recognise many benefits, to not only the charity but the wider community,” she says. “This has been especially poignant during its special 40th anniversary year.
“Without this funding, the choir would not have been possible. The grant has really made a big difference to so many in the community. The gift of this grant, has and will continue to be a legacy from the Changemakers Fund to the Choir.”
The funding has enabled the charity to reach out and engage with new audiences within its community, whether through engagement in the choir itself or at events.
Looking to the future, the plan is to continue the Paul Sartori Community Choir for many more years – and much is planned between now and Christmas.
“We have been fortunate just recently in securing a grant from the National Lottery Community Fund to continue the choir for another 12 months from October onwards,” says Janine. “This will cover the choir master fees, venue, refreshments and salary costs in organising the choir and its activities in the community.
“We plan to attend the “Night of 100 Voices” concert, in collaboration with Vision Arts, on Saturday October 22 alongside Pembroke & District Male Voice Choir and the Vision Arts Show Choir hosted at Follies Theatre, Folly Farm.
“We also plan to perform at the opening of the Light up a Life series of events, which is a hospice-wide campaign. This is organised by Paul Sartori Hospice at Home and will be held on Saturday November 19 at St David & St Patrick Catholic Church in Haverfordwest. In addition to this we have lots planned for the choir leading up to Christmas – with Community Carol Singing and fundraising for the charity.”