Howard and Gemma Francis, founders of The BIG Sing and former London Community Gospel Choir members, believe community choirs can play a pivotal role in reconnecting communities during the COVID recovery. The couple, who founded the choirs with Gemma’s brother, Jon Rattenbury, had over 1000 people across the country taking part in their choirs pre lockdown, and have seen engagement continue throughout the pandemic.
Gemma says: “We all know that many people across the UK have felt isolated, and have found the past 18 months a significant challenge to their mental health. We have seen that by gathering together, singing together, and sharing life together, we have been able to build deep bonds that have provided far more worth than simply a singing group. We have seen people find hope and connection in the midst of real suffering.”
The BIG Sing have performed with big-name artists, such as Ellie Goulding, London Community Gospel Choir (LCGC), and Leona Lewis, and are planning to use the end of COVID restrictions as an opportunity to celebrate their 10-year anniversary. Howard and Gemma now have choirs all across the country, and are keen to emphasise that singing is for all cultures, backgrounds, races, and ages, including The BIG Sing Community
Choirs (for everyone aged 12+ years), TINY Sing (for babies and tots 0-4 years), and LITTLE Sing (primary school music workshops for kids aged 5-11 years).
Before establishing The BIG Sing, and for over three decades, Howard had been writing many of the London Community Gospel Choir hits and produced popular songs, such as ‘Perfect Harmony’, ‘I Will Wait’ and the definitive ‘True Praises’, which received critical acclaim. He has also performed as a pianist and vocalist for artists, such as Alexander O’Neal, Mica Paris, Blue, Five, Gloria Gaynor, Van Morrison, Tom Jones, Alesha Dixon, and Des’ree.
Howard comments: “Music has the power to unite people across communities. Our choirs reach out to all ages – babies, kids, teens, adults, and grandparents – and singing has helped our members overcome depression, isolation, loneliness, and illness, and has provided new friendships and a real sense of community. We are more than just a choir; we are a family.”
In addition to The BIG Sing, four years ago the couple founded The BIG Sing SOUL – a charity that aims to help people in the community, who can’t physically travel to the venues where the choirs rehearse and perform. Through the work of the charity they have supported disabled groups, nurseries, schools, care homes, and other vulnerable communities.
They aim to launch a new daytime choir as part of their new charity project to encourage more people singing who can engage during the day, such as mothers at home with children, retired people, those with disabilities, the unemployed, and those struggling with mental health.
This year marks ten years since The BIG Sing was launched, and both Howard and Gemma believe now it is more important than ever for community groups to play a role in bringing people together, and providing hope and joy in a time where they are much needed. Gareth Russell