What do you do when you have a thriving, 22-strong mixed-voice choir but only 21 members can access the choir loft?
This was the dilemma facing us when one valued member of our choir, who regularly attended rehearsals in the church hall, could not join the other 21 when it came to our most important job of all – singing at mass. To the rest of us, this felt very unfair. After all, why should someone who’s done all the hard preparatory work be deprived of joining us to sing at mass simply because he is a wheelchair user and can’t climb the stairs to the choir loft?
We felt very strongly that Michael belonged with the rest of us and we were determined to make it happen. But how? Could we bring the choir downstairs, for instance? Unfortunately that was impossible – not enough spare space on a Sunday. So it was a no-brainer – we had to find a way to get him up to the loft.
As June arrived, we discussed the possibilities and realised there was actually a very simple solution. Buy a stairlift!
Our parish priest Canon John Harvey was totally supportive of our plan, but stairlifts on steep, winding staircases don’t come cheap and we soon discovered we would have to raise the daunting sum of £5,500 to make the plan a reality.
We came up with a number of fundraising possibilities. Some quiz nights, perhaps? A series of concerts? Raffles? Maybe a wine-tasting evening? These would raise some money, for sure, but it would take a long time to reach the large total we needed. Then our Director of Music came up with another idea – a twelve-hour sponsored organ marathon. She would play and people would sponsor her for each of those hours. We decided to give it a go.
For the next three weeks choir members set up stall outside the church after every mass, handing out sponsorship forms and accepting some generous and totally unexpected on-the-spot donations. Many in the congregation took forms away with them and signed up friends, family and colleagues as sponsors, as did all the choir.
The response was staggering. By the time the organ marathon was completed, we knew we were close to our target. A few weeks later we discovered we had exceeded it! We were able to order the lift, pay the deposit and prepare for the installation.
As a result of people’s amazing generosity our stairlift was installed and fully operational for the last Sunday in September, just three months after we began to fundraise. All 22 choir members are now able to sing together and are profoundly thankful for the incredible team effort that made it possible.
To the best of our knowledge, we at St Edmund’s have the first fully accessible choir loft in the Diocese of Brentwood. We hope that the story of our parish-wide team effort will encourage and inspire others to create an environment that is inclusive for all – irrespective of disability or ill health.