How a blogger and a singer-songwriter took Future Directions’ inclusive choir to winning Care Sector’s Got Talent

Thursday 30th September 2021, 4.50 pm, five miles somewhere south east of Preston: after taking part in a nationwide talent competition, there were scenes of elation at a local community hall with a party of 15 people. Among the fifteen or so people were Stuart Vallantine, Kevin Phoenix, and Lorraine Chapman-Linnett – values-driven employees for Future Directions. With the Stronger Together Community Choir, they entered Championing Social Care‘s Care Sector’s Got Talent, a national talent competition.

Care Sector’s Got Talent is a nationwide virtual talent competition aimed at the Health and Social Care Sector. Its aim is to showcase the talent of people that work in the Health and Social Care Sector. The Stronger Together Community Choir, part of Future Directions since the first lockdown kicked in, sent their digital audition tape on the 17th September. This was filmed in the grounds of Stanley Grange and blew away the competition’s organisers.

Shortly afterwards, they made the shortlist and went on to win the competition beating nine other entrants. For their prize was £500 of Love2Shop vouchers, £100 to a charity of one’s choosing, and a chance to perform at The Care Show, at the National Exhibition Centre near Birmingham.

* * *

The Stronger Together Community Choir is one of Future Directions’ Zoom-based activities. It is headed by singer-songwriter Kevin Phoenix and co-hosted by myself and Lorraine Chapman-Linnett. My role includes providing technical support and giving the choir percussive backing (train whistle, duck caller and kazoo). We sing songs with supported persons from houses managed by Future Directions tuning in to Zoom.

Stronger Together: the song and the songwriter

The name Stronger Together came about because of a song written by Kevin Phoenix. The song was written in April 2020 shortly after the first lockdown. That month also the introduction of Fun Time Friday, which I am also proud to be associated with as well. Like The Stronger Together Community Choir, Fun Time Friday was created to entertain people during the lockdown. As well as being a song of hope, encouragement and inclusion, it captured the togetherness of the time. It is also a message of love and support.

Singer-songwriter Kevin has also written songs for Manchester City and Manchester United (and performed a song about Georgi Kinkladze on the Maine Road pitch). His television credits include writing music for MUTV’s documentary on Eric Cantona and an appearance on Channel Four’s Under The Moon. As well as music, he has worked with people with learning difficulties and autism spectrum conditions for over two decades.

“You may ask yourself, ‘Well, how did I get here?'”

Kevin and I joined Future Directions within a month of each other (he started in February 2020, a month before I did). As Activities Coordinator, he helps with running activities at Stanley Grange near Samlesbury. Almost as soon as we met in person, we hit it off immediately with our musical knowledge. By October 2020, I made my first trip to Stanley Grange and became a regular member of the Fun Time Friday team up there. The rest, as we say… was history.

In my role as social media marketer and designer, I have publicised the choir on Future Directions’ Facebook account. Each session has also been recorded and noted for internal use.

The National Exhibition Centre gig

Kevin, Lorraine, twelve other members of the Stronger Together Community Choir and I will be going down to the National Exhibition Centre near Birmingham. We will be singing the song Stronger Together at The Care Show on the 13th October with two performances. One being an early one at 10am with the second one at 7pm.

More members will have the chance to sing on Zoom. Alongside fifteen people at the NEC, the Zoom singers could provide backing vocals for the live act. If you know your 1980s TV history, similar to the Saturday Superstore episode where one half of Bucks Fizz sang Run For Your Life in Jersey with the other two singing from BBC Television Centre. (One half of the group couldn’t get to that part of the Channel Islands due to flight cancellations).

For the gig, each member of the choir will be decked out in Stronger Together Community Choir T-Shirts. These will be printed by Clitheroe-based company Hoody Marvelous.

First stop, the NEC. Next stop, the World…?

Could The Stronger Together Community Choir be close to an Apollo gig or a date at the AO Arena? Its success at Care Sector’s Got Talent could be a springboard to further success beyond its existing niche.

The choir won Care Sector’s Got Talent due to the energy in its performance, both on the ‘audition tape’ and in the finals that went out on Zoom. Another factor in its success came from two factors. One was the fact that persons supported by Future Directions were also involved in the song. Instead of cover versions, Stronger Together Community Choir used an original piece of music, written by the head of the choir himself.

Oh, and some sources close to the creator of this blog reckon “It Was The Train Whistle What Won It” on both occasions. As for the person who sung and played the train whistle… I think you need to read the fourth paragraph. (Yes, it is my fault).

S.V., 09 October 2021.

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