Like so many organisations Bolton Cancer Voices was founded on nothing but a dream, eternal optimism and a wealth of goodwill!
The 'eureka' moment for our Founder - Karen Elliott – came whilst watching a programme in the BBC series 'The Choir' with Gareth Malone. Having a long history of singing, performing and producing on the amateur stage she had a keen appreciation of the power of song, the joy it engenders and the sense of camaraderie that develops within a Choir: this, added to her interest and involvement in a number of cancer focused activities locally and nationally, provided the insight to recognize the potential benefits in starting a dedicated Choir for cancer patients and cancer survivors.
From the outset Karen was clear about the Choir's aims and how these should be achieved: -
Having the strategic direction, she then needed to fill in the operational details like a Musical Director, a suitable venue in which to rehearse and the little matter of money – or rather the distinct lack of it!
Finding the right Musical Director would be key: Karen says:
'For me it wasn't just about securing a Musical Director – and that in itself would have been hard enough: it was about finding someone for whom the role was a perfect fit; someone with the right temperament, style and empathy, but most of all – someone who could put up with working alongside me!
Luckily I knew just the man for the job and had indeed worked with him in the dim and distant past and though our paths hadn't crossed for some twenty years I determined to track him down. Our previous collaboration had been around an annual event called 'Let's Show We Care', which saw 8 local amateur operatic societies from across the region brought together to stage a fundraising concert in Manchester's Palace Theatre / Opera House. Finding myself in need of an overall Musical Director for the concert, a young guy called Clive Rushworth had come highly recommended and as the saying goes – 'the rest is history': the following 3 years saw the event generate a healthy figure for the charity concerned.A change in job on my part resulted in a subsequent divergence of our paths: it must therefore have come as a huge surprise to Clive when even after leaving the area, what do they say – you can run but you can't hide, I managed to track him down and a voice from bygone times again appealed for his help and pleaded poverty!
Clive had been keen to hear my idea and with his customary enthusiasm gave a resounding 'YES'!
Having previously faced the trials and tribulations of working with me I'm amazed, delighted and eternally grateful that Clive was prepared to put up with me yet again!
Just after this fate saw fit to throw us a lifeline to address both of our other most pressing issues: the Friends Meeting House kindly agreed to become our rehearsal venue (in the full knowledge that money was a massive issue) and the then President of Bolton Lions Club bought in to the vision and kindly nominated us to benefit from monies raised during his term of Presidency. I can't begin to tell you the relief that this brought: we owe a huge debt of gratitude to those concerned for putting such faith in us.
Given my determination that the Choir should not levy membership fees to ensure accessibility to all and avoid compounding the situation for anyone who may already be experiencing financial pressures due to the effect of their illness and / or treatment, I knew I would need a 'partner in crime', so to speak, if the Choir was to be financially viable with the necessary funds not only to meet our running costs but ensure we develop, diversify and provide great experiences for our members: thank heavens for Pam!
Pam Livesey and I had met a few years earlier when she joined a group I then Chaired – Bolton Cancer Patients and Carers Consultative Group, so she was under no illusion about what working with me would entail when approached to take on the role of Treasurer: and I for my part knew there was no better person for the job! We got our heads together and set off in search of potential sources of funding; a mission with no end and plenty of challenges along the way but we have been fortunate to secure the support of some wonderful, charitable and visionary benefactors, who have recognized the worth of Bolton Cancer Voices to those whose lives are touched by cancer: in a world where there are so many worthy causes vying for attention we are privileged and thankful to have received their patronage.'
On the 25th June 2012 Bolton Cancer Voices held their first rehearsal with 16 members – all ladies! It was to be a further 8 weeks before the first of the gentlemen joined our ranks. As continues to be the case, some members had never sung outside of the shower before coming along, others brought with them a wealth of choral experience but, as Clive makes learning easy and fun, no matter what people's level of ability no one feels out of place.
Within mere weeks of forming members took part in their first performance, appearing on the Town Hall steps as part of a massed community Choir to mark the opening of the Bolton 2012 Games with a song entitled 'Chase Down The Sun', which had been specially written for the occasion.
In the remaining months of the year we managed a further 4 performances – at Bolton Hospice, for a private function, carol singing at Asda and entertaining guests at a Christmas party hosted by Bolton Lions Club, a welcome opportunity to let members of the Lions see how much we had achieved in the short period since our inauguration and get a sense of what their kind donation has meant to us. We also held our first Singing Workshop in October, a now established annual event, rehearsing from 5pm - 9pm and taking a well-deserved break to enjoy a buffet tea and catch up with friends in other sections; 'singing for your supper' has never been more aptly interpreted!
2013 saw us adopt a more strategic approach to our appearances, activities and fundraising.
One of our smartest moves of 2013 has to have been the recruitment of Mark Foster as our Accompanist. Mark is passionate about his role and fitted in perfectly from day one: we are truly fortunate to have such a dedicated team in Clive and Mark.
Over the course of this year we have undertaken 6 performances – for the residents of a care home; at Bolton Hospice, as part of their 'Party In The Park'; a concert for Moor Methodist Church, Horwich; a private function; a return to Asda for some seasonal carolling and by far our most ambitious event to date - our very own concert - 'Jingle Bell Sing-A-Long', in the imposing Victoria Hall, Bolton.
Hoping it wasn't going to be a case of 'fools rush in where angels fear to tread', we took the plunge: it felt like a monumental decision to be making after only 6 months in existence but if cancer teaches you anything it's to seize the day! And so we did!! Saturday 7th December to be exact. The format decided - a festive concert for the whole family to enjoy with tickets made as affordable as possible - we were absolutely blown away when the renowned Besses o' th' Barn Band accepted an invitation to join us: as one of the oldest brass bands in the world, fast approaching their bicentenary in 2018, all the ingredients for a great night's entertainment were coming together. With St Philips Junior Workshop recruited to the line-up we just needed a great compère to keep the whole evening running smoothly: in stepped Dr Kevin Jones MB ChB FRCP MD; a Consultant Chest Physician, stand-up comedian and one of the most in-demand speakers on the after-dinner circuit. We couldn't have asked for better.
With additional cancer patients and cancer survivors, professionals who treat, care for or support cancer patients and singers from other local Choirs recruited to join us on the stage for the audience participation numbers, we delivered a concert to be proud of: even before the last note had faded the decision had been taken to do it all again next year!
'Jingle Bell Sing-A-Long' was undoubtedly the highlight of our 2013 calendar.
Performances aside, earlier in the year we celebrated our 1st Birthday with a buffet and a cake – no tame candle for us, flaming fireworks spewed forth a cascade of sparkling stars: we appointed a Social Secretary to organize the odd event for members outside of rehearsals: looked at ways in which we could involve members in helping us fundraise including the introduction of a small range of Christmas cards overprinted with our details to help raise our profile in addition to generating income and took on a more identifiable and cohesive appearance with the introduction of logo bearing polo shirts, which are worn with great pride when we're performing; the Choir will always be indebted to Lindsay and her family for their kindness and generosity at a time of such unthinkable personal loss.
One of the important considerations when we're planning our activities is to try and give members new, inspirational and hopefully exciting challenges and experiences and thus 2014 saw us enter our first Music Festival: though not victorious on this occasion our enthusiastic performance did sufficiently impress organizers to warrant an unprecedented invitation to perform at their Showcase concert the following week - a privilege normally reserved for the winners from each class; sadly prior commitments meant we were unable to accept this invitation but we were extremely honoured to have been asked.
This year certainly saw us raise the bar in terms of our undertakings: we travelled to Rossendale to perform at an event to raise money for Cancer Research UK – 'Relay For Life; did a concert for the Bolton Branch of Parkinson's UK; entertained visitors to Bolton's Food and Drink Festival with our appetising menu of songs; provided entertainment for a private function; enjoyed the success of another 'Jingle Bell Sing-A-Long' concert and were privileged to appear at Manchester Cathedral in the 'Christmas Celebration' of Greater Manchester Police – an awesome experience considered by many members to be the performance highlight of their year.
In between appearances we managed to squeeze in a few other activities – we undertook a Members' Survey: our Chair was nominated for a National Diversity Award: the ladies of the Choir were treated to a Masterclass courtesy of the Charity 'Look Good Feel Better', which focused on makeup for the stage and screen: we invited our guest Choir members from 'Jingle Bell Sing-A-Long' to join us for supper and relived the wonderful experience we'd shared together: held our first social event – a delicious meal with great company and lots of laughs: a Performance Workshop saw us focus on stagecraft and vocal techniques, with a complimentary buffet to keep everyone energized and later in the year we held our annual Singing Workshop – an opportunity to focus on our festive programme: we held our first Annual General Meeting: took part in filming for the Community Channel's 'Brilliant Britain – Brilliant England' series, which aired in April / May 2015 and recorded 'Inspirations' – our first CD, in Studios where stars like One Direction and New Order had reputedly sung before us; a great, fun experience and an invaluable learning curve.
During 2014 we were delighted to see our membership numbers rise to 46, taking us ever closer to our optimum number of 70.
There are currently 14 individual tumour groups represented in the Choir: people can join at any point in their cancer journey whether newly diagnosed and in treatment and indeed this year someone came to us one day post diagnosis; living with cancer as a life-limiting condition where it is known that their illness cannot be cured or cancer survivors, regardless of the time elapsed since diagnosis – to date the record is 55years post diagnosis! It's entirely at the discretion of the individual just how much information they choose to share with other members about themselves and their cancer journey.
This year, as doubtless in others to come, some of our members have sadly lost their hard-fought battles and in memory of these brave, wonderfully inspirational individuals we say:
'thank you for the music dear friends: we treasure the times we've shared together.'