For Annette, attending the weekly Going for a Song singing workshops at Mitcham Parish Centre can only be described as, “pure joy.”
“I’ve always, always loved singing. Going back, I was in the school choir,” says Annette. “A few years ago, I saw a poster and thought ‘I think I’ll try this’ – and I did. Coming here has been such a joy, and it’s so nice to meet new friends.”
Aimed at older people, the sessions from Attic Theatre Company launched fifteen years ago and have been a huge success, in spite of a move online during lockdown, with up to 30 people attending some weeks.
Singing releases endorphins – and people do really seem to enjoy it.”
According to Victoria Hibbs, Attic’s executive director, the group offers multiple benefits. “There’s the social aspect, people have made friends through the group and there are the obvious health benefits – to lung function, the cardio vascular system, plus singing releases endorphins – and people do really seem to enjoy it.
“We’ve had people with early-stage dementia who’ve benefited enormously. The muscle memory seems to kick in when you are singing and you remember lyrics from years ago. It helps carers too, through the connection that can happen when people sing together, which is lovely.”
“It’s not too taxing,” adds Victoria. “We sing in unison, we don’t have parts or harmonies, so non-skilled people can feel like they’re learning something, without having to put too much pressure on themselves.“
The singers practice well-loved songs in a range of genres, from musical theatre to calypso. There’s a monthly theme – February’s is songs featuring colours. While they mostly sing for pleasure, the group performs for local organisations too and at events or to complement Attic’s own productions.
I come every week and we meet up with friends. It’s a very lovely atmosphere.”
According to long-time participant Monica (pictured right), joining was a challenge – but that was seven years ago. “My friends said ‘come along’. I said ‘I can’t sing!’ But I’ve enjoyed the challenge. And I am learning to sing. I come every week and we meet up with friends. It’s a very lovely atmosphere. At Christmastime we sing to residents in their care homes, and they love that, or we join the choir at the parish church. So, they’ll make a singer out of me yet.”
While Attic began life as a theatre company, it has grown into much more than that. “We say we’re an arts centre without walls,” adds Victoria. “We started to build an outreach programme and over the years that expanded. We used to have three regular projects, we have 15 now, we’ve grown hugely.”
We want to address social needs, to have an impact in our community.
“We don’t just focus on theatre and singing, we do dance sessions too. Some of our youth workshops feature creative writing and filmmaking. We want to address social needs, to have an impact in our community.”
Projects undertaken by the company have a wide reach. Upcoming initiatives include set design and writing workshops at Canons House, Mitcham, afterschool clubs at Morden Hall Park with an environmental theme and outdoor workshops with teenage asylum seekers and refugees.
Attic is based at Mitcham Library, where the company feels at the heart of the community. “Just knowing the disparities that exist in Merton, the east of the borough is where we have focussed a lot of our work, but it’s not exclusive. For example, we have singing workshops in Wimbledon too, so we can bridge that gap, draw the two threads together where we can.”
Attic is one of the organisations to receive a small grant from NHS South West London to fund winter events aimed at bringing people together and sharing health messages. The company is using the grant to fund social sessions before the singing begins with tea, coffee and the chance to chat.
Find out more at on the Attic website.