Village choir set up by Thanet PCSO is tackling loneliness
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A Kent Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) is hitting all the right notes to tackle loneliness during lockdown in Thanet.
PCSO Deborah Forsyth launched a community choir, known as Village Voices, at the start of 2019 which aimed to bring people together. It met weekly until the Coronavirus pandemic meant the members were faced with lockdown. To counteract the threat of isolation, the choir has turned to technology to keep going and the singing sessions are now held online.
PCSO Forsyth, whose responsibilities include patrolling the rural villages of Thanet, established the choir after she realised that for many residents she spoke to, there was a risk of becoming lonely.
She said: ‘Aside from crime prevention and assisting in investigations, an important part of our role as PCSOs is to be a friendly face to residents, identify any issues or tensions in the community, and focus on the wellbeing of others.
‘In modern life people can sometimes feel a little isolated but don’t feel brave enough to put themselves out there and meet their neighbours, so I wanted to give people a reason to leave their homes, make new friends and as I love singing, I thought a choir would provide the perfect opportunity to do that.’
The choir went from strength to strength and was attracting between 60 and 80 people from around Thanet who would meet once a week at the Salvation Army hall in Minster. They even started to give public performances to showcase their vocal talents.
But when lockdown began in March, conditions meant the singers of Village Voices were no longer able to meet in person.
PCSO Forsyth said: ‘I was determined that the choir continue, even if we couldn’t be in the same room anymore.
‘What I didn’t anticipate before starting the choir is that it has provided a place where people can go who may be struggling not just with isolation, but a multitude of other issues such as mental health and grief. We’ve had people join who are fulltime carers, and they look forward to singing as it gives them a respite from whatever they are dealing with and allows them a chance just to be social.
‘Not only that, but people who may be considered vulnerable can be at risk of falling prey to criminals if they are alone – it is important they have that regular positive interaction to look after their welfare and know they are ok.
‘So now we meet via online video calls. It did take some adjusting to at first, but it wasn’t long before everyone was all singing along together as before.'
PCSO Forsyth is aiming to keep Village Voices singing via Zoom meetings every Wednesday while restrictions are in place.
‘Everyone is welcome to come along and join in. It is not about having the perfect voice. Members don’t have to be able to read music and there are no auditions to join.
‘Our members are full of creativity and bring great ideas about what to sing and how to sing it.
‘It was a little daunting when we started the choir as I realised I would be the one conducting - which I have never done before!
‘But it is great fun, people join the calls to sing, and sign off with their spirits lifted.’