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Tales of Covid: Voices of Hope

The Tales of Covid report is a study of how charities and community groups across all 32 boroughs of London worked tirelessly to keep the city alive during the pandemic. This is a story of one of those groups from the ‘Process’ section of the report.

Kingston Upon Thames

Kingston Upon Thames, with its reach into the heart of Surrey, is another London borough that combines the town and countryside in almost equal measure. Traditionally controlled by either Conservative or Liberal councils, it has a few pockets of deprivation amongst otherwise relatively prosperous environments.

The heart of the borough is the bustling centre of Kingston which sits across the river from neighbour Richmond. In 2019, before anyone had thought about a new virus emanating from China, Kingston resident Sarah Clay established a charity, Voices Of Hope (VOH), which would use the power of choirs to restore hope and dignity to people who were recovering from violence or abuse, dealing with long-term mental and physical health challenges, looking for a home or dealing with isolation and anxiety.

Voices of Hope

As an Associate of the Royal College of Music, Sarah was and is passionate about using the art of music to support people within her local community. The community choirs she set up immediately began to have an impact on individuals across the borough. Then came March 2020, and in one day, Sarah had to close down all the eleven community choirs that were up and running. It was obvious that there were immediate needs and, in partnership with Kingston Council and Sarah’s local church, Kings Gate Church, VOH volunteers threw themselves into cooking and delivering food: from March onwards, they cooked and delivered 30,000 meals to residents, gathering support — both financial and in kind — from local businesses and residents.

Soon, Sarah’s team began to hear unsettling stories about how many low income families were suffering the combined impact of poor nutrition and lack of activities while lockdown rules continued. That’s when she came up with an innovative proposal to support such families: BRITE Box. BRITE stands for Building Resilience In Today’s Environment.

Families in need across Kingston, Richmond, Elmbridge and Southwark were invited to enrol in a year’s project in which every week, they would receive a box containing ingredients, recipes, photographs and child-friendly advice on how to encourage children to get involved in the cooking. The innovative elements of this campaign, which is still ongoing and now reaching 430 families every week, were that it impacted on the issue of child food hunger through fun family activities; it created interest in cooking amongst children; it brought families together around food in the home.

Returning to Normality

Once lockdown regulations relaxed, VOH was also able to return to its choir mission and now runs Residential Choirs within several residential elderly and care homes in south west London and Sisterhood Choirs aimed at women needing support in their lives. This latter is complemented by a Sisterhood Sanctuary inside Kings Gate Church where women can come for support and safety.

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Thank you for reading. Check out the full Tales of Covid report for more stories.

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