Kay Doragh – Singing Session Volunteer

How did you first get into singing?

Growing up I always assumed that I was a rubbish singer and didn’t even dare to sing karaoke until I was in my late 20s!

I lived in Ghana for a while, which made me realise that there’s a very different attitude to singing and dancing there. Here in the UK there’s pressure to be ‘good’ at whatever you’re doing. But I learned in Ghana that it’s not about how good you are, just that you can take part, which gave me the courage to join a singing group in Peckham.

Why did you decide to volunteer with Voices Welcome?

I’d stopped singing for a while as I was pregnant and kept getting breathless when I was trying to sing. But once I’d had the baby and started my maternity leave, I wanted to get back into it.

Also I used to volunteer in Tooting and ran drama and arts sessions at a youth club for refugee children, which I really enjoyed doing. Creating access and opportunities for people to feel part of a community is important, and I really like the idea of doing this for refugees with singing. So now I take my baby Oisín along with me and volunteer once a month with Voices Welcome.

What are Voices Welcome sessions like?

We run sessions once a week on a Thursday, at St Mary’s Church in Kennington, which offers other services and help for refugees.

Sessions are really laid back – you need to be flexible as you don’t know who will turn up each week because they have so many other major things going on in their lives.

People might have been in one of the other rooms having sessions about legal issues or housing and then drift into our session.

What do the session volunteers do?

Xenia Davis leads the singing and there are normally about four volunteers who support, making sure that there’s someone singing each part and that no one is singing alone. We also try to invite people to join us and to feel comfortable as part of the group.

Is it hard trying to teach a song if not everyone speaks that particular language?

Language usually isn’t a barrier – we learn by ear and use repetition. We choose songs like the African song Bele Mama, and have been taught Long Time Girl, a traditional Jamaican song, by one of the women who comes which even has a dance.

People also bring in songs from other parts of the world that they’d like to share, often religious or folk songs, and they lead the sessions.

But you don’t have to sing – some people prefer just to come along and listen.

What do you like most about volunteering with Voices Welcome?

The singing sessions are a chance for people to participate but also to lead. People bring their skills, their background and their culture with them, and the sessions help to give them a voice and to be heard.

I really love that when you sing together you feel such a sense of community without having to talk about it – it just happens.

Also taking baby Oisín along is great. He loves the attention!

What song would you like to bring to a session?

I’d love to find an Irish folk song to a session – the problem is they’re very wordy! But when I find one I’d love to share it with the group.

See how you can get involved with Voices Welcome.