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Inspiring people through music: Choral Outreach at Rotherham Minster

Rotherham, town in South Yorkshire, UK. Rotherham Minster (All Saints Church), Gothic architecture.

The Rotherham Minster Choral Outreach programme and choir work together to help encourage music to flourish through all aspects of the church.

Choral Outreach initially started up in the Autumn of 2019 with the aim of supporting local schools and developing musical skills for children in Key Stage 2. Despite disruption between 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic the reaction today is positive amongst the organisers.

Schools that take part are visited weekly in term time, with the format agreed in partnership between the school and Rotherham Minster. The team work with groups of around 30 children, with 80 families attending the first event back after Covid delays in the Summer of 2021.

Each session involves songs taught by the music team, with skills and techniques developed in singing and musical knowledge.

Elliott Walker is the Centenary Project Worker based at Rotherham Minster, with his musical duties being mainly school-based:

“I’m tasked with going into our local primary schools, both within our parish and the wider Rotherham catchment. In essence this is a programme where we approach a school and offer our services to go in and provide a classroom curriculum, sometimes with afterschool choirs.

“We cover all sorts of topics, from Tudor music to volcanoes, Vikings and Victorians! I’ll go away and find lots of different music materials to go with each topic. For the afterschool choirs we teach the children how to follow and understand pitch. It’s a really fun and engaging way to enhance music in schools.

“The programme has had a real positive impact in schools and we’ve been able to really enhance the music curriculum, particularly with being able to bring singing back into schools. So many schools found when restrictions on singing ended after COVID they just didn’t really know how to do it.”

Elliott works across seven schools in a week: Kimberworth Community Primary School; Blackburn Primary School; Redscope Primary School, Roughwood Primary School; Treeton Church of England Primary School, Whiston Junior and Infant School and Herringthorpe Junior School.

These visits give those taking part the chance to perform some of the songs they’ve rehearsed in front of the schools and their parents, with a concert in the Minster before Christmas taking place in front of a collective audience of 433 people (including children and parents).

Ian Wilcock is the Musical Director at Rotherham Minster:

Ian: “The idea is to draw more people into the relational fringe of the church and then more people into the body of the church, with hopefully some help for those who haven’t encountered faith before to start their own faith journey.

“There will be people who we work with, such as families and young people, who decide they want to explore Christianity further. It’s a way of engaging with the community to grow the church younger, as Bishop Pete would say. Many churches throughout the country have seen the average age of congregations increase over the years, so this is one way we’re trying to increase the numbers of young people and their families within the church.”

Numbers in the Minster Choir treble section have increased over the last year, with around 15 choristers on the books who come regularly to rehearsals. Each chorister rehearses weekly during term time and sings at the all age service on the first Sunday day of each month.

There’s a focus on gradually easing participants into what isn’t always a familiar community for some people, especially those who don’t come from a church background. There’s the opportunity for people to stay after the rehearsals to explore faith in more detail with Rev Canon Phil Batchford (Vicar of Rotherham Minster), but no compulsion to do so.

Ian explains that the musical teams operate in a multicultural community, and there are no hidden agendas from anyone:

“There are a number of children there from different faiths and with no faith. We’re very open in the fact that we are a faith community and we are a Christian community. We are offering what we are offering as our Christian gift, but we do secular stuff with the children unless the school asks us to do otherwise.

“We’re not just something for special people; we’re actually part of the Rotherham community and we are here to serve the community. The music is an excellent way of doing that because it’s accessible. As the Vicar Phil Batchford would say, Rotherham Minster is for the whole of Rotherham.”

Elliott adds that music can help to break down barriers for people who aren’t from a church background:

“It’s that first initial step of coming into the building. It’s important to remove the initial anxieties of walking into church because I think we all feel walking into a new place, even as adults, can be quite nerve-wracking – especially at church.

“It’s been great to see children and families really connect with all the forms of music that’s been taking place in schools and at Rotherham Minster.”

This work is funded through an SDF (Strategic Development Fund) grant from the national church and we’re really grateful for the opportunities that have been created from this blessing.