The Choir That Celebrates Inclusion

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Outlook’s All Together Choir has a diverse membership, ranging in age from early twenties to 91 years old. Many have different life experiences, including having a disability or experiencing other forms of disadvantage.

Focus on ability

“When I am with the choir everyone focuses on my abilities, rather than on my disability,” says choir member Shaunagh. “I can come here and feel safe and no one passes judgement on me.”

The choir is the brainchild of Outlook, a not for profit social enterprise based Melbourne’s outer South East, in Pakenham.

Outlook aims to support people with a disability by empowering people of all abilities to participate, enjoy and work in their community. The choir is based at Outlook’s Community Centre in Pakenham, a venue purpose built to allow easy access for people of all abilities.

School of Hard Knocks

Outlook has partnered with Dr Jonathon Welch’s School of Hard Knocks program to run the choir. This has enabled it to offer expert musical direction and some wonderful performance opportunities.

As organisations that both aim to empower people with disadvantage, it seemed natural to work together.

This time, the aim was to set up a choir that would act as a social bridge to enable people of all abilities and ages to get to know one another. It would provide an opportunity for inclusion, and help break down some of the barriers that stop individuals from becoming involved and enjoying their communities.

“Outlook is proud we can offer a program and venue that is truly accessible for people of all ages and abilities,” says Julie Walton, Outlook’s Director of Community Services.

Levi McGrath, music director of the All Together Choir, describes the benefit of the choir as “the joy it brings.” A choir, he says has the “power to change your life and outlook on problems you are going through.”

Choir member Gail agrees, “It makes us all so happy and we go out of our sessions bubbling over with energy.”

Fostering friendships and community connection

The choir has successfully fostered friendships and community connections. “It’s rewarding seeing the sense of family that has developed since we have been coming here. I’ve watched friendships forming, seen people start to look after each other; and want to come out of their houses and join in and make friends with strangers,” says Levi.

Gweneth, another choir member, has a similar view. “There are no barriers at all, it’s all inclusive, we come here, enjoy ourselves and sing. It’s a way of socialising.”

The choir program has also achieved a strong level of community support. Around nine community volunteers have become regularly involved in the program. The volunteers come from the local community. Four attend rehearsal and performance sessions, assisting choir members to participate to the best of their ability and to enjoy their times at rehearsals and performances. The other five, including a qualified chef, assist with preparing the weekly lunches that have become an integral feature of the choir rehearsals.

The lunches, which use food donated by the local community, and in particular, the 4Cs, a local cooperative of church groups, is seen as an important contributor to the success of the choir. A sit down meal at the end of each session not only provides a nutritious meal, but provides choir members with a chance to socialise, enjoy their community and form friendships.

Choir member Gail says, “If you came and just went without eating you wouldn’t mix like you do when you stay for the lunch. It would be good thing for someone who was lonely.”

Choir member Jennifer says; “It’s the highlight of my week. While you are here you forget about your troubles. You are mixing with people you don’t normally mix with.”

Levi sees great potential for this choir. “The energy and enthusiasm here is very special. People see there is value in hearing from those we don’t often hear from as it breaks down stereotypes.”

Outlook has received funding from the Cardinia Foundation, the Vincent Chiodo Foundation, the Country Women’s Association (Pakenham branch), Councillor Kate Lempriere’s Ward Funds at Cardinia Shire Council, and the further personal donation from Councillor Lempriere, towards the establishment of the choir.