"Leaving fear behind once you start singing." This was one child's response to the experience of performing in a Liverpool gospel choir which has had a telling impact on the development of pupils from two primary schools. The Circle of Voices Gospel Choir has brought together over 70 youngsters from two Catholic primary schools in the Picton ward of Liverpool – St Hugh's and St Clare's – in a project organised by the Catholic Association for Racial Justice (CARJ).
These are schools with high numbers of established and recent immigrant pupils and they were selected for the programme which began in September 2014 at the suggestion of Frank Cogley, former director of Catholic education for the Archdiocese of Liverpool. For Mr Cogley, who is on the board of CARJ Liverpool, a clear motivation was to give support to youngsters from diverse backgrounds and from one of the city's more deprived areas.
The ensuing success of the choir, guided by choir director Mel Birkett and CARJ Liverpool staff member Dale Bradshaw – a former community police officer – was the subject of a report issued earlier this summer, which describes how the children, aged from six to 11, met for an hour a week over a period of 36 weeks during the 2014/15 academic year. They went on to perform at Christmas concerts at both the Metropolitan and Anglican Cathedrals and at the Parish Church of Liverpool.
The choir is now embarking on its third year together and Bill Chambers, who helped compile the report, said: "The major achievement of the Circle of Voices Gospel Choir was the raising of self-esteem, achievement and aspirations of all engaged. It has been a superb example of the power and value of singing to the all-round development of young people."
Another positive consequence, according to the report, is that "by encouraging parents to experience choir performances, it was also felt that barriers between different racial, cultural and faith groups were being reduced". These school communities include people of a variety of faiths and from British, Irish, Asian, Afro-Caribbean and Central European backgrounds.
The final word goes to the children themselves. "It helps you feel more confident and less shy," said one. "Singing in front of an audience is exciting as well as making us feel proud," said another of a project which has sprinkled a good deal of pride onto two of our Archdiocese's school communities.