“Cancer is why we came together, but it’s not what we are here for.”

The Rising Voices Wessex community choir is purely a group of people who enjoy singing, insists Sarah McNaughton, who runs the project.

Set up just over a year ago for those living with and beyond cancer, it was hoped those joining the choir would reap the physical, psychological and emotional benefits of singing.

But Rising Voices has also become a weekly social event and a chance for those living with cancer to forget about treatment and hospital appointments and enjoy being “normal”.

“It came from a clinical point of view,” explained Sarah.

“In theory as someone is diagnosed with cancer there’s a whole network of back-up and support that comes into place, through chemotherapy people are supported.

“But there’s a bit of a hiatus when the treatment has finished and they say they don’t want to see you for six months or three months, there’s a bit of a gap and that’s the time when people feel probably at their lowest.”

Dr Alistair Smith, a clinical advisor to the National Cancer Survivorship Initiative, and Verena Cooper, lead nurse for the Dorset Cancer Network, who are both keen singers themselves shared a vision of using singing to aid recovery following treatment.

“If people have had chemo they’ve lost their hair and might be still off work and not feeling so good,” said Sarah.

“A lot of people hide themselves away because they don’t want to talk to people about it and constantly have to tell people about cancer when they want to forget all about it.”

A £10,000 grant was allocated by the Dorset Cancer Network to launch the choir in January last year and there are now around 25 members who sing weekly with the group and take part in performances throughout the year.

“It’s primarily for people who are affected by cancer, but we are also very keen on it not being called a cancer choir”, said Sarah, who also runs a Singing for the Brain group for the Alzheimer’s Society.

“The cancer is a connector between us all, but we kind of want to forget about that. There’s no difficulty in talking about cancer within the group, there’s no stigma. We’ve had people that I’ve not even known are wearing wigs and they will come one week and take it off and say their hair’s growing back.

“It’s a really safe, nurturing environment. The singing is almost secondary.”

There is no charge to join the choir, which meets at St Aldhelm’s Church in Branksome on Tuesday evenings, although there is a suggested £2 weekly donation, which includes refreshments. The emphasis is on having fun, with singers having their say on which songs they would like to sing and no stipulation on having to attend on a regular basis.

“Sometimes people just don’t feel like it,” said Sarah.

“We are very much a group of people who sing purely for the fun of it.”

That being said, there has been a huge amount of research done on the health benefits of singing. It’s one of the reasons Sarah, who nursed her mother through cancer, is so passionate about her vocation.

“On the physical side, you are going to feel better when you sing because of the act of getting oxygen into your body,” she explained.

“That same sort of feeling when you eat chocolate or when you fall in love, that happens every time you sing. Some people have got breathing problems – singing is a really good way of strengthening the lungs. But there’s an emotional side to it as well. It allows you to convey emotions that you don’t want to normally. It’s an outlet of joy.

People are surprised how jovial we are.

And there is a social side as well.”

Sarah and the committee members are now concentrating on raising awareness of the choir, as well as funding to enable the venture to continue.

“The more people we have, the more people we can help.”

  • Rising Voices Wessex meets 6.15pm - 8.15pm on Tuesdays at St Aldhelm’s Church in Poole Road, Branksome. A second group, Rising Voices West, has been started in Bridport. To find out more, visit risingvoices.org.uk, email admin@rising voices.org.uk, or call 07500 676083