What attracted you to the project?

I had worked with Inspire on previous projects, and had seen the ability of the team to make personal connections with people in a multitude of different circumstances, and I knew that by collaborating with Solace, we would be in a strong position to make a real connection with these women, and contribute what we could to alleviate some stress, even just for a couple of hours each week. Having previously read about the closure of women’s shelters across the country, I became increasingly concerned about what this means for so many people. I was really excited to get to work with the rest of the team.

Before the project began, you attended a training session provided by Solace. How did this prepare you?

The strongest message which came out of the training, was that there is no ‘typical victim’ when it comes to abuse and domestic violence. Pretty much everyone in the room had some sort of experience of this type of behaviour, in varying forms, and it became apparent that this is reflected on a larger scale. Weirdly, I thought that I understood this, and then upon meeting some of the women at the shelter I found myself surprised. These women were young, gregarious and just like many of my friends. It just goes to show how deeply we hold these pre-conceived ideas, of what kind of person we think constitutes a ‘victim’, and what it takes to challenge those and adapt to provide the right support.

How did you feel on the first day of the project?

I felt nervous on the first day! On the one hand, we had prepared a theme and programme for the first week, but you never really know how these things will pan out, and therefore need to be flexible. That always makes me nervous, but once the first session is over, it actually becomes one of the most enjoyable things about the process! Also, I think whenever you are entering into a sensitive environment, initially there is a worry that you might say or do the wrong thing. We even worried at times about picking songs with lyrics that might be upsetting or triggering. Obviously you have to be aware of these things, but generally speaking each session became about the music that people enjoyed, and as the sessions went on I felt that I was less prone to overthinking every choice!

How did you feel on the last day of the project?

I was sad that it was all over! I had really enjoyed the opportunity to build a relationship with the team at the refuge, as well as the women and their children who stayed there, and the team from Opera Holland Park. There were so many joyful moments throughout our time there. Each session wasn’t just a concert, we would sing and dance together and talk about all sorts of things. Again it was easy to forget at times why we there in the first place – we were just a group of women having a catch up! It felt like we had been able to create a really lovely rapport. I missed seeing the team every week too!

Do you feel the singing had an impact on the refuge?

I think singing has the amazing ability to both bond people, and also to provide some escapism. In the first week we did most of the singing, and it helped to break the ice. Then as the sessions continued the women involved began to sing for us – often introducing songs from their own cultures – and then teaching us all what they meant and how to sing them ourselves. Singing became a really quick way for us to learn a bit about each other.

One of my favourite memories is when one of the women played us some traditional Tunisian music and taught us how to dance to it. I have a mental snapshot of that moment stocked away in my memory, of this group of women from different cultures and life experiences, laughing and dancing together and feeling the joy that the music bought to the space.

Also I remember our amazement when one of the women sang us a beautiful Filipino lullaby – and later played a note perfect rendition on the piano as we all sang along. Singing meant that we were able to build this positive connection and experience, without having to focus too much on any ‘heavy’ themes. It was just about the music, friendship and creating some positive escapism!

Did anything surprise you about the refuge?

The positivity in the space really surprised me – again you have a preconceived idea of what a refuge will be like, but the team working there obviously do everything they can to make it a safe and warm environment. Also, as I previously mentioned, the fact that the women staying in the refuge were so like many women I know, was an eye-opener, and a constant reminder of how domestic abuse can affect anybody, and will often not be obvious.

Do you have any reflection on your own experience throughout the project?

The project has given me a tiny glimpse into how the process works once someone escapes an abusive relationship. That initial leap is so huge, and from that point there are endless challenges and hurdles which, even with support, can seem insurmountable. There are so many vital frameworks that need to be in place in order to allow someone in these circumstances to remove themselves, and often their children, from these dangerous situations.

What we were able to provide was something a bit different – some light relief and escapism, a safe place to talk and laugh. Although we were all aware of what brought us to the refuge and to the group, it was not the focal point of each session. I like to think that we provided a sense of release through the music, and also that we all realised how much singing and music can connect us, no matter where we are coming from, we found common ground very easily. That is the power of music, I suppose!

Survivor’s is a project as part of our education and outreach programme, Inspire. Find out more about other projects and how to get involved at this link.