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Council workers unwind with lunchtime of song
Sing your socks off, the councils singing group at the council chamber. Left is organiser Jean Cleary. Pictures: DAVE COX
ONCE a month Swindon’s council chamber comes alive with the sound of music as scores of staff from planners to IT consultants and even the chief executive himself sing to the heavens to unwind after a hard morning’s work.
Four years ago Nick Stephenson set up a modest singing group along with partners in crime Jean Cleary and Allison Chamber-lain, for all employees from veteran performers to shower divas.
Sing Your Socks Off, an appropriately rock ’n’ roll moniker, proved an immediate success and the perfect place to mingle with colleagues while letting off steam at lunchtime.
The head of equality and diversity was inspired to launch the group, which he insists is not a choir, after witnessing firsthand the benefits reaped by the residents of South Oxhey council estate after TV celebrity Gareth Malone worked his musical magic on some of its tenants.
“I went to the outskirts of London as part of my development work and Gareth Malone had been there and started running a community choir there,” he said.
“It is an estate that had really huge unemployment and crime problems, but the change that the choir made was incredible.
“I loved the idea of that. People may not be very good on their own but they can make something together. It gives staff the opportunity to do something different. Everybody benefits from it, even the people who come and listen.
“We have got people from across the range of pay grade and work areas. We’ve even got people who retired and still come back to sing.
“It’s very difficult working here and there is a lot of pressure. People can let their hair down.
“Every work place should have one.”
The bold venture allowed many, including Nick himself, to take the time to get to know his colleagues and overall make the office a more pleasant place to be.
“I speak to people now who I’ve seen walking around for years and I didn’t know who they were,” he added.
“It’s the only thing that keeps me going. It just gives people a bit of a lift and makes them feel good about the people they work with.”
From rock classic to pop anthems, Nick, Allison and Jean, who lead each session, make sure they choose easy pieces which can be learned, rehearsed and performed in their one-hour lunch break.
Although daunted at first, the opportunity of singing his socks off was just too tempting to pass up for chief executive Gavin Jones, who already performs with his own band for charity.
He said: “I admit to having been a bit nervous at first, but my choir colleagues have made me feel very welcome. I think I need to do a bit more practice though.
“Like everyone else I lead a hectic life and singing with friends and colleagues in the council choir is a really nice way of letting off steam.”
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