So, part two of my Military Wives Choirs journey was what happened post TV programme and No.1 single. I have a No.1 single....how crazy is that!?! Anyway, more support for Military Wives as a legacy of what Plymouth and Chivenor Military Wives Choirs achieved with the No.1 single 'Wherever You Are' was all I ever wanted. At a meeting with other military wives, the beneficiary charities, Royal British Legion and SSAFA, the TV production company, 2020, and our record company Decca, we decided a charity was the best solution. After a call out for support to set the charity up, a group of us formed what became affectionately known as 'The Working Group Leads' - see the picture below - love these ladies! In reality a group of volunteer military wives who barely knew each other and had no experience of setting up a charity. To keep us on track and focussed, from the earliest days there were some guiding principles that helped us to make some key decisions.
We wanted to build a lasting legacy – this wouldn’t just be about enjoying a bit of fame and we didn’t want it to be a flash in the pan, the real vision was that our daughters and grand-daughters would be singing in these same choirs for generations to come. Secondly and linked to this, we committed to establishing a welfare organisation with the day to day support of its members at its heart. All of the choir members from the earliest choirs felt passionately that it should be an independent charity for Military Wives – not run by commercial organisations or other charities but run by the wives for the wives. A collaborative network of choirs, not there to control but rather to enable, guide and support them and their members both financially and practically to ensure they each feel equally valued. No one lady or choir should feel more or less important than another was the benchmark by which we made many of our decisions.
Through sheer hard work, determination and not being afraid or embarrassed to ask any questions we launched the charity in September 2012 at Wellington Barracks in London - we recorded record breaking video on this day too! We also forged some of the strongest friendships any of us have ever had and remain the best of friends today. It was a proud day for us all! There is no saying more apt than 'When women work together incredible things happen' because the legacy of the success seen by Chivenor and Plymouth can now be seen across the Military Wives Choirs network today with over 2,000 women supporting each other by coming together to sing each week. The vision we all shared has evolved but the co-founders of the charity are no longer involved. It's now run by a small staff team based in London and a volunteer trustee board. It still remains a key provider of support for women in the British Military Community.
What we can never forget and what I remember whenever I talk about Military Wives Choirs and all that’s happened, good and bad, is where it started and what it was for. It was from a place of kindness and 'sharing the love'. With a passion for making lives that can sometimes be tricky and lonely a little better! Theres nothing more heart-warming for me than hearing the stories of ladies for whom their choir is now a lifeline. For example, those ladies whose husbands have been made redundant, or who have moved more times than they care to remember and know no-one in the area. Or those who live off camp and don’t feel part of their local community, or who have problems they need to share with someone but haven’t yet found anyone who will understand. These ladies now find themselves sitting next to each other at weekly rehearsals and are able to talk for the first time about how all that feels. They can support the lady who has a husband who is based away and so doesn’t feel cared for by a particular unit, or the ladies who have been sick or bereaved and desperately need the love and support of kindred spirits around them.
Its wonderful to see the network of choirs grow and ladies receiving support they need but what it's highlighted to me is that there is still a huge gap in the welfare support available to military wives and their families. The Military Wives Choirs are doing a fabulous job but really are only touching the lives of a fraction of the military and veteran families in their community who need support. Sadly many don't know where to turn to for help when they need it most or are worried that calling on support services will affect their partners career. So instead they are trying to get by on their own or are being missed. Using the knowledge I gained from my time with the Military Wives Choirs Foundation through Strength Behind the Strong I'm going to commit to making sure that measures are put in place so that military families who need help can easily find out who to contact and where to get support. It will take time but we will get there. http://www.militarywiveschoirs.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/About-us2.png