GAINING THE FEEL GOOD FACTOR
Story collector: Lauren Simmonds
Photographer: Lauren Simmonds
Seven years ago I saw the Feelgood Choir advertising for new members in the Stourbridge News. The name attracted me immediately; I mean who doesn’t want to feel good. I hadn’t sung since I was at school, many moons ago, but I asked a couple of friends if they would like to try it with me, We went along and felt at home straight away, they were so welcoming. The songs were so uplifting and after settling in to the choir, I did start to feel better. It lifts my mood and helps to keep it lifted, when we leave on a Wednesday we’re all happy. We look forwards to it all week. My confidence is so different to years ago, I was always the one who didn’t want to put my hand up, I was always the one who didn’t want to go in the school play, I’d never want to go in to a room first.
At the time the Feelgood Choir was run by Dudley Mind. It was set up by Emma Marks who knew how good singing in a choir is for mental wellbeing. After a couple of years, with the financial downturn Dudley Mind had to withdraw funding. I understood the need for this but I felt like my
security blanket was going to be taken away. We were all so desperate to keep the choir running, so we tried ways of raising money to keep going. Dudley Mind supported us as much as they could, let us rehearse at Dove House free of charge.
Emma left Dudley Mind to work for Birmingham Mind, and both she and Martin said should take over as chairman, but at first I didn’t want to because I have periods of depression myself, I was not the most confident person and didn’t know how the pressure would effect me. As time went on I seemed to be doing the job anyway, I was growing in confidence and with the support of the choir I decided to give it a go.
We carried on like this until April 2016 when we had to formally split from Dudley Mind. They separated the money we had raised from their funds, so we had a start. At this point I went to Dudley CVS for help and advice and Becky Picken was a treasure. She gave me advice on how to run a “not for profit business”, set up a Constitution, and she pointed me in the direction of The Big Lottery to apply for funding.
I left it until Christmas 2016 because I wanted to give it my full attention. I did a lot of research into the need for a choir aimed at helping people with long term health conditions and mental health problems. I found out a lot of interesting information.
When we sing in a choir we produce more of certain hormones. Dopamine, endorphins and oxytocin. These hormones lift the spirit, help us bond with other people and increase motivation. Hence the uplifting effect singing in a choir has. But I think the most important factor is we produce less cortisol, therefor lowering the stress that everyone feels, especially those dealing with long term health conditions and mental ill health. I am diabetic, but not on any medication, and when I used to test my blood after choir practice, I got consistently good readings. I am sure that was due to the lowering of cortisol production. Our choir members have a multitude of health conditions and they all say singing in the choir makes them feel better and more able to cope. It both lifts our spirits and makes us calmer at the same time. As well as health benefits singing to gather helps combat social isolation. For some, choir night is the highlight of their week, being the only time they see other people.
Singing in a choir delivers a host of physical and emotional benefits, including increase aerobic exercise, improved breathing, posture, mind-set, confidence and self-esteem. When I first joined the choir I was a different person. I never thought I would perform on stage, make announcements, talk in front of a group of people or run a choir. Now I do all those things without nerves. I haven’t got as far as singing a solo, but who knows? Mind have set up this tai chi class and a walking club too. I joined the walking group and from the walking group I’ve joined the tai chi class, I get a bit unpopular with my husband. He doesn’t actually say so but he must have seen a difference in me. He knows I wouldn’t have done anything like that, we’re a family of shy people. But not going into a depression like I used to, that’s got to be a benefit for him because I wouldn’t have liked to live with me, he was very good. I don’t have any reason to be depressed, it must be chemical thing. I’ve got two lovely daughters and 5 lovely grandchildren, happy marriage, we’ve been married nearly 50 years next year so why would anyone be depressed? You know some people have things that go on in their life which is a reason. There’s absolutely no reason and I said that to the doctor once and he said well that’s the nature of the beast.
We moved to DY1 in April 2017, and in June, we were overjoyed when we heard that the Lottery
would fund us for a year. So, at the moment we are lottery funded but in July that runs out, so we
will be back to trying to raise money, and although we pay £4 a week subs, that doesn’t cover our
running costs. We need 32 members paying every week to break even.
So, I can’t stress enough how singing in a choir is for boosting our health and general wellbeing. Our choir master is the best tonic! He fills us with enthusiasm, always makes us smile and we leave rehearsals having gained the feel good factor! I just can’t convince enough people to try the choir, if only I could convince the world to try it everybody would be happy.
Click here for more information about joining the Feel Good Choir
LISTEN TO JAN'S STORY HERE
JAN'S COLLECTORS COMMENTS:
"What I think resonated with me about Jan's story is how relatable it is and that's why I felt it was important to tell it. She was in a place mentally that I think we can all relate to at some point in our lives. Her story shows how important it is to push ourselves out of our comfort zone and actually that it's ok to because it's not necessarily going to be a negative experience, in fact it's often where the magic happens. I admire her strength for making that decision to try the Feel Good Choir and her honesty about still feeling vulnerable at times. This that is exactly how life is for many of us and it's ok for it to be that way. I hope that people can really relate to Jan and are inspired by her story enough to go take that first step to try something new, something that could change their lives for the better."