What to expect in our sessions
Unity is a super friendly group who love welcoming new people. Our sessions focus on our wellbeing, enjoying singing with others and having fun. We don't take ourselves too seriously but we do work hard to be the best that we can be. We sing music that makes us feel good!
Returning after lockdown
We are all finding our voice!
When we said goodbye to each other on Tuesday 10th March 2020, we had no idea that 77 weeks later, we would finally be returning to in-person, indoor singing. Over the last 17 months we have hosted over 100 online singing sessions and welcoming over 100 singers from across the North East and beyond! Our Zoom sessions have provided weekly solace throughout the pandemic, connected us through isolation and strengthened our community.
We are all experiencing feelings about returning in-person. Although we've seen each other outdoors a couple of times, September will be the first time we will properly reunite. Some of us are anxious and others excited. Some of us will be filled with joy to hear harmonies once again and for others this will be an emotional or overwhelming experience.
One thing is for certain - we will all be finding our voice together. We will all need to rebuild our vocal stamina and be patient with ourselves. Our Find Your Voices tasters followed by our 4 week course will ease us back into singing and as well as being around other people again.
Not ready yet? Join in online!
Not all of us are ready to return in-person yet. Our singers join us on Zoom for a variety of reasons including childcare, transport, work patterns or when unwell or isolating. Each Tuesday, singers can choose whether to join online or in-person to suit them.
Our sessions promise escapism, laughter & friendship!
Our upbeat sessions will take you away from the stresses of day to day life and leave you feeling energised and uplifted. Although you may feel unsure at the start, you will find it hard not to enjoy yourself and you’ll be surprised how quickly your confidence builds. Every week you’ll learn how to improve your vocal skills, develop technique and get to grips with singing in harmony.
On arrival you will be greeted by our friendly volunteers and have the chance to enjoy a cuppa and a natter to get settled in. When it's time to start singing, we'll let you know where it's best to sit and introduce you to other singers near you. We'll start with a warm up to get our bodies moving and then some fun vocal exercises that gently help us to start to use our voices.
We will sing a variety of songs each week and build on the songs we learned the week before. You'll have lyric sheets and sometimes sheet music to help you but you don't need to be able to read sheet music to take part. As we progress through the term, you'll gain access to our rehearsal tracks via our website so that you can sing along to practice at home if you'd like to.
Unity is an inclusive choir that aims to help singers overcome their personal barriers to singing. 40% of our singers have a physical or mental health condition or disability, identify as neurodiverse or are affected by a cognitive or memory related condition. At Unity we do everything we can to support everyone in a way that's accessible for them. We see the ability not the disability and strive to help everyone achieve their personal goals.
Many of our new singers are extremely anxious about singing with a group. They may have had previous negative experiences of singing when their voices have been criticised or they really aren't sure if they'll be 'any good'. Sharing your voice is an extremely intimate thing to do as it's sharing a part of you. We know that it often takes a lot of courage just to walk through the door into your first session and are there to support you every step of the way.
Our sessions focus on supporting our singers with their health, comfort and happiness. There are many proven benefits to singing with others. Our sessions also include the five ways to wellbeing. We connect with others, stay active with gentle movement, take notice through 'mindful moments', keep learning and give to our community.
Our staff & volunteers have recently completed our Mental Health First Aid qualifications in order to help us provide the best possible support to our singers as we return to in-person sessions. We know that singing could trigger some uncomfortable or overwhelming feelings. Our Wellbeing Champions will be on standby to offer a listening ear, a private moment of comfort or signpost you to other ways to get support. Equally, if another singer shares something that impacts you, we will be there to offer you support in absorbing that news or stepping in if you feel unable to continue the conversation.
Whilst our staff will often be very busy in sessions, just give us the nod and one of the team will be happy to step aside, sit with you for a few minutes or call you afterwards. Remember that in Unity you are never alone.
Our sessions are lead by professional singing leaders Rebecca and Sinead. They are both friendly, approachable and bursting full of energy and enthusiasm, working together to lead Unity.
Rebecca McGarvie, Founder of The Singing Elf
Rebecca founded Unity Choir in 2017 and directs our singing programme, taking the lead on our Tuesday evening sessions.
Sinead Livingston, Community Musician & Choir Leader
Sinead joined Team Elf in February 2021 to co-lead Unity with Rebecca, she will be taking the lead on our daytime sessions.
We sing a variety of musical genres including musical theatre, pop, rock, gospel, folk, traditional and contemporary music. We choose pieces that we enjoy and that we think our audiences will enjoy too. By singing a real mix of styles we develop our vocal technique, musicianship and performance skills.
Sometimes we sing a cappella (unaccompanied) and other times accompanied by piano, guitar or backing tracks. Some of our pieces are technically harder and take longer to learn but we get a real satisfaction from cracking them. Others are much easier but we can focus on performing them confidently.
The lyrics we sing are important to us, we often sing songs with uplifting lyrics or a message that we believe in.
Unity's COVID Safety Measures
We are committed to making our in-person sessions as safe as possible. We understand that everyone feels differently about their personal COVID comfort zones. However, everyone attending our sessions are required to follow our COVID safety measures in order to help protect themselves and others.
Current COVID Safety Measures
All singers are required to:
- Take a lateral flow COVID test (See below)
- Not attend with any COVID symptoms or symptoms of other winter bugs such as coughs, colds or flu
- Use hand sanitiser on arrival and regularly during session
- Use a mask on arrival & when using toilets
- When singing, keep social distanced at 1m apart
- Do not close doors or windows being used for ventilation
Unity is an inclusive choir, many of our members and some of our staff are more vulnerable due to their own health conditions or personal circumstances. After months of consulting our singers, researching guidance from community music bodies and carefully considering all aspects, we have decided to keep these measures in place and will review each month.
All singers required to take a COVID test
Lateral flow COVID tests (swabbing the mouth & nose) are available for FREE to people who do not have symptoms. They are quick and easy and provide a result within 30 minutes. You can pick up FREE tests from most pharmacies or order from the Government website here.
All singers are required to take a test within the 24 hours in advance of attending every session. YOU DO NOT NEED to provide evidence of your test result. On arrival, we will simply ask you to confirm you don't have any symptoms and have had a recent negative test. If you forget to take a test, you can request one on arrival and will be required to keep your mask on and social distance for 30 minutes until your negative result is confirmed.
Exemptions - some people are unable to take a test because they have tested positive for COVID in the last 90 days. Please get in touch if you have any questions.
Got a question? Just get in touch
We are always here to chat through any questions or concerns that you might have. Unity is an extremely supportive community and we do everything that we can to ensure the safety and comfort of our singers.
Why are singers required to test?
Throughout the pandemic we have been extremely cautious and kept our sessions online from March 2020 to August 2021. Singing was one of the last group activities to be allowed to return indoors in England and we have carefully considered the advice of the leading experts on returning safely.
Whilst many of us have now been testing regularly for months, we know for others, testing will be new. Testing isn't a pleasant experience, but most people get used to it quite quickly. Our singers have told us that whilst inconvenient, testing gives peace of mind to know we are being as safe as possible.
In recent months we have been consulting our singers through surveys and talked in depth about the options available to us. Our community voted overwhelming in favour of testing over wearing masks during sessions and remaining 2 metres apart. With everyone testing, our sessions can be as 'normal' as possible.
What does 'Pay as you Feel' mean?
Our Find Your Voice sessions are fully funded by Sunderland City Council, and are FREE to attend. You may choose to make a 'Pay as you feel' donation during booking or at any time that suits you during the project.
Unity Choir is run by The Singing Elf Social Enterprise - we are a local, not-for-profit, community organisation. Some of our projects receive funding but not all of our work is covered. We rely on donations to help our singing continue even when we aren't receiving funding and to support other aspects like our performances, social events and online community. Before the pandemic, our Unity sessions cost £5 per person. We know that for many, the pandemic has made times even harder and we are committed to keeping our sessions 'Pay as you feel' for as long as possible.
©2019 The Singing Elf
The Singing Elf Ltd, Trading as The Singing Elf Social Enterprise, Company No. 12246373.
Registered Office: The Old Rectory, The Broadway, Houghton-le-Spring, DH4 4BB, United Kingdom