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Lewisham's hospital choir - keeping the NHS top of the pops

Blog by Cllr Ami Ibitson

I do enjoy a good singalong. My efforts are mainly reserved for the aural pleasure (ish) of my fellow congregants at St Dunstan’s Bellingham. I am an enthusiastic singer, and what I lack in musical training, I make up for in volume. (I was politely-ish told to shut up during two separate carol services during the recent festive season).

I would love to join a choir but my council-ing activities make it difficult to commit to regular rehearsals. But I do take an interest in and try to support local choirs (the Bellingham Community Gospel Choir, for example!) Singing is good for you, it improves wellbeing and of course, being in a choir is a sociable thing to do.

Like a good many other people, I took part in the campaign to Save Lewisham Hospital. I remember a feeling a huge pride in our community as I marched along Lewisham High Street with a group of colleagues from Lewisham West and Penge Labour Party. The sense of community spirit and unity was tangible in the air. One thing that really sticks in my mind from that particular day was when we passed a group of Crystal Palace FC supporters holding a banner commending Millwall FC (who had arranged to move their match for that day and had encouraged all their supporters to join the march) and supporting the hospital campaign – such was the strength of feeling that even match day rivalries were put aside.

I’m really pleased that the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Choir’s efforts to get to Christmas number one means that more people around the country will have heard of the story of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign and of a community who will unite and fight to protect that which is important to us. Like the original campaign, the NHS for Number One campaign was a fine example of how to campaign effectively, especially using social media – and I was thrilled when they succeeded (I should also say that ‘A Bridge Over You’ is also a very fine tune indeed!). Writing a council motion – or indeed, a blog post - involving Justin Bieber was not something that had previous crossed my mind, but his support for the choir must be noted and appreciated – I have to say that prior to this, my own appreciation of Mr Bieber’s artistry was somewhat lacking (although I did quite like ‘Sorry’).

It is however, vastly important that the reasons behind the NHS for Christmas Number One campaign are not forgotten – whilst cheering at the telly when the news was announced on Christmas Day, we also heard from one of the campaign organisers that part of the reason she wanted the song to reach the festive top spot was that ‘morale in the NHS is quite low’.  We must keep in mind the reasons for this. The NHS is facing onslaught after onslaught – junior doctors have reluctantly decided to strike in protest at changes to their contracts, and budgets are being squeezed on all sides, as my colleagues on the Council are all too aware. NHS staff train for many years, and work in difficult circumstances, we will all know of NHS staff who have gone above and beyond the call of duty either for ourselves or for a sick loved one. Our NHS is a precious resource and it is being eroded. We must make sure we do not let this fact slide into the background.

The fact that so many members of the public, from across the whole country, bought and downloaded ‘A Bridge Over You’ – with or without Mr Bieber’s encouragement, shows clearly how widespread support for the NHS is. In a time of ongoing uncertainty for our local services and those further afield, we need to ensure this remains high in the public consciousness. The use of the popular music industry seems a good way to do this, and for this reason, the choir performing their chart topper at as many events as possible, where it can continue to be Facebooked, Tweeted and blogged, is a good thing to do, hence our motion. I would also hope that Lewisham’s new friend Justin might look favourably on Lewisham’s NHS Chief Exec Tim Higginson’s suggestion that the NHS Choir would be happy to be backing singers when he performs at the O2 up the road in Greenwich later this year. I also hope that the NHS Choir will look favourably on our request for them to perform at our Council AGM – which will certainly liven up the proceedings! I also hope they can be invited to sing at other key events, such as Lewisham People’s Day.

We all know that the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign was successful – Hunt was beaten in the courts following a challenge brought by both the campaign and the Labour-run Council. But laws have now changed and once more, south east London’s health services are under review. I really hope we don’t have to go back on our marches, but I know that if that is what’s required our community will. And thanks to the choir the rest of the country now knows it too. So in the meantime, in the words of another well known anthem, let’s keep the NHS flag flying here.

*Cheeky plug… Bellingham Community Gospel Choir meet every Tuesday at Christ Church on Bellingham Green. They don’t just do gospel (but this style of music is one of the easiest to learn even if you don’t have any musical experience, so is more accessible to all) and you don’t need to be a churchgoer to join in. They have performed at Bellingham Assembly, for commuters at the station, and at various other venues and are going from strength to strength. The Choir is currently taking part in the council’s ‘Small and Faith Fund’ crowdfunding exercise on SpaceHive and hope to successfully raise funds to enable them to continue into the future. If you’d like to help more people in Lewisham get singing, please consider making a pledge to them – the project can be viewed here: http://www.spacehive.com/Bellinghamrocks

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