Bradford Boys & Belles – we did a thing! By Maria

The past few weeks have all been about Brief Encounters – not the plummy 1940s David Lean film, but our site-specific play set in Bradford Interchange, exploring the sort of chance meetings, characters and stories that arise when you journey through a busy station. Written by Rav Sanghera and directed by Tom Wright, the show took audiences through various stops before alighting upstairs in the bus station for a finale that required a community choir to serenade the actors, audience and a pigeon as they travelled outside (to the great confusion of incumbent smokers).

My job was to pull together the choir, and, after several weeks of emails, visits and pleas to numerous local groups, a seemingly disparate bunch of us banded and bonded – we put the ‘community’ in choir! And this is what I love about community engagement – people who otherwise never would have met becoming great friends (hours and hours of having to sing an Elbow song will do that to you…). Six weeks, numerous rehearsals, some heckling, and 38 public performances later, here’s what the participants had to say about the experience…

Caroline Challis, Choir Leader: So we had a really mixed bunch, people who’ve sung in choirs for a long time, people who’ve never sung, and a couple of teachers from Shipley College who said they were really just there to accompany and definitely not sing. And it’s just grown into a really cohesive group, it’s just gelled really well. I’ve been really impressed at the way everybody has supported each other. The play itself is about Bradford, and it’s about the fact we’re all different characters and we carry different stories, but there’s a common heart, a common humanity, and I think actually singing together really illustrates that very well. Our singers are from different backgrounds, different stages of life and on the surface some of them have nothing in common, but actually what we do have in common is the home that we share, and that shared humanity. That’s what brings us together as a group and helps us create these lovely performances.

2015-10-08 14.59.06Alyson, Course Coordinator at Shipley College: Our students either need physical support, or support with social situations. I wasn’t going to join the choir because I’m tone deaf, however, Caroline talked me into joining, and I have a little tune going on now! From the students’ point of view they have grown in confidence. I’ve loved every minute of being part of the community choir, and meeting other people, that’s been so good for their social skills. We’ve got some quite diverse students, and for them to sing individually or mix in different groups was a real challenge. What’s been really nice is for the students to have the experience of experimenting with their own voice, and actually getting the best out of it, realising what level they’re at. Plus mixing with the group and becoming individuals has been really good. From the students’ point of view they’ve just loved every minute of it, and feel as famous as the actors!

2015-10-07 14.18.30Yahya, student: We’ve been performing at Bradford Interchange with our choir group, Bradford Boys & Belles. It’s to do with this play called Brief Encounters, we’re doing a little part in it. It’s my first time performing, I’ve never done anything like this before. I think I have learned new things, singing in a choir, because I’ve never sung in a choir before. It’s really good, its fun doing it together. Everything’s been fun (even the waiting around!).

Harry, student: I do sport at Shipley College, but have done performing arts. Last year I did two performances. Alyson just gave me a ring and I thought I’d give it a go. It’s been good for my vocals, good confidence, and I’ve just met really nice people. Singing in a bus station has been weird. Bit scary because of loads of teenagers, but we just ignore them. It’s been really, really good. I’d do it again.

Dominic, student: I go to Shipley College, it’s quite a good place. It’s basically courses that will help you build your potential for the future. Performing Arts is where it gives you a chance to overcome your stage fright, and build your singing skills. My confidence is coming great, I’ve had no mess ups, it’s just going great. Singing with a group is great – I started off uncomfortable, eventually confidence started building.


2015-10-09 14.56.23Sophie, student: Alyson, our tutor, told us there was a chance to sing with our friends in a choir. It were nice to meet new people. It’s been great. It’s been different because I’m used to singing on my own. I’ve learned how to sing in a group and I’ve learned about choirs. Nerve wracking, people trying to disturb us and we just ignore them, carry on doing what you’re doing. It’s built my confidence up a bit. Brief Encounters, it were really good, and it were funny and sad. Friends said that it were amazing.

jackJack, student: I got asked to come here by Alyson and the rest. They asked me to sing because they know I’ve got a brilliant singing voice (laughs), and because I was in a previous show at Shipley College. I’ve never sang in a choir, and I’m with some brilliant singers. Just the singing with everyone here is the best thing.

James, Tutor, Shipley College: Been here at Bradford Interchange every day. It’s been good, good feedback. I was here as assistant bus driver, and got bullied into singing. Thankfully, I’m a fantastic singer… (“You wish!” – Jack).

Damian, Tutor, Shipley College: I help these learners grow in confidence. I’ve enjoyed being part of the group, I was only meant to come for one week but I enjoyed it that much that I stayed on for the rest of it. It’s been a good experience to be part of the group, and I’ve enjoyed the singing aspect. The young people are inspirational. Me and James have worked with these type of learners for about ten years now. Seeing these learners, who’ve been with us a for a couple of years now, and seeing the confidence – actually singing in a bus station, is incredible really, we’re really proud of them.

Janice: I got involved through my local community choir (Let’s Sing in Eccleshill). It’s been hectic, but exciting as well, wondering what it’s going to turn out like. I loved the show, it was so different. It’s exciting because I think everything else is so quiet all the way through, and it’s good to have an ending like that. I just love it, I love to have the young people because they’re so lovely, aren’t they? They have done well. They’re really good. I just think it’s been a good experience because there’s been so many people we haven’t known, and it’s nice to be with the young people because we tend to think young people are, well , not bad, but do you know what I mean? We don’t mix, you wouldn’t go down the street and talk to young people, but you’d talk to somebody your own age. It helps to realise that everybody’s the same.

Bev: I thought I’d give it a go. It’s been wonderful, I’ve enjoyed every single minute. I wish we were doing it again! I thought the show was really good. The concept was brilliant, going round the interchange, the different stories. Bradford Interchange can be a bit daunting at times, but everybody else is so good that outweighs those things. I haven’t felt particularly threatened, just a bit unsure. I think it’s done my confidence a lot of good and I’ve met some really nice people. A whole new experience and we’ll never get a chance to do something like this again, and I think ‘life’s for living’, you know, do something new! I can’t emphasise how much I’ve really enjoyed it.

Shirley & MargaretShirley: When we’ve been here (Bradford Interchange) we’ve really enjoyed it, but it’s been a bit tiring. We’ve been trying to add up how many times we’ve sung that song! I’ve really enjoyed it, I have, I’ve loved it. And being here as well, watching all the people. It’s surprising how many different people you see waiting for buses. I’ve really liked it, and meeting new friends. And we all like singing! That’s the main thing, we all like singing. The young people, oh, they’re lovely. We’ll feel it when we all go our separate ways. They’re so friendly, aren’t they? And I always thought I was a shy person, but now I don’t think I am! It’s brought me out of myself. And it get’s you out. I’ve really enjoyed it, I feel as thought I’ve known you years!

Margaret: I’ve been a member of the Thursday Thespians for a couple of years. I’ve done one or two things (with Freedom Studios), but this is entirely different. Another experience! I thought the other one was unique that we did last year, Home Sweet Home, but this is even more unique. I think it’s something different and actually, of course, it covers what we’ve been trying to put over to the people that come to watch. I mean, there have been various amusing incidents, haven’t there?! There’ve been a few! The young people have been great, I put it very much down to Alyson. If you haven’t done anything like this before it’s worth having a go!

Beryl: I joined Freedom Studios and we’ve done quite a few different things, and this is one of them. I love singing, especially harmonies, and we’ve got quite good harmony going with this group. We’re doing really well considering we’re really new, and I’m really enjoying it. I actually went on the tour as an audience member, I was amazed, it’s really good. It was nice to see the choir at the end, because when you’re singing you don’t realise whether you’re good or not, and they (we) were absolutely brilliant. I didn’t think I could work with new people, but now I know I can.

2015-10-07 19.31.02-1Amanda: I heard about the Freedom Studios production from my brother on Facebook and here I am, really enjoying myself! Immediately I felt really welcomed, it’s been great to mix with the young people. I immediately liked the show, could relate to it, too. I found it really moving as well, had tears in my eyes quite a few of the times. Just the whole concept was really exciting, where are we going now, what’s going to happen now?! I just liked that whole concept of a journey around the interchange. It’s been fun.

Frances: I had no idea really what to expect, and it’s been an amazing project, brilliant. When I first turned up to rehearsals obviously I just knew Amanda, but gradually all the faces became more familiar, and it’s such a lovely group. The young people are so gorgeous and lovely. It’s been nice to interact and realise everyone’s got different lives, and it very much reflects what this whole play is about , just randomly connecting people and getting to know each other’s stories. We got to see a rehearsal and were lucky as there were just two of us going round, it was really special. I was tearful on every scene for different reasons, and the emotions in each scene are up and down as well, you’re on a bit of a rollercoaster, and then to go to the different locations – the whole experience was wonderful. It’s been an explosion of experiences and insights, to realise that you’re walking past people in the interchange and they all have their roles…

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Thank you to everyone who took part in this project and for making it such a lovely experience. You’ve a lot to be proud of, and I’m certainly proud of you lot!


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