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'Addiction' choir gets royal visit

The Raucous Caucus Recovery Chorus
In full voice: The Raucous Caucus Recovery Chorus

Tom Bateman, Today programme

A group of 30 men and women, many recovering from serious and life-threatening addiction to drugs and alcohol, stand in a semi-circle - the stress drawn from their conditions visible on some of their faces.

And then, in unison, they begin to sing.

"If I had the wings of a dove," they vocalise using several layers of harmony as the choir leader snaps her fingers to the rhythm.

"Wings that would take me where I want to go. I'd fly to the utmost, way out into space."

This is the Raucous Caucus Recovery Chorus - a choir run by the charity Action on Addiction whose patron the Duchess of Cambridge is visiting on Tuesday.

Choir leader Wibke Hott
Choir leader Wibke Hott

Members of the group are in recovery from different forms of addiction according to Jacquie Johnston-Lynch, the charity's head of service in Merseyside.

"That will be recovery from drugs and alcohol addiction or it might be recovery from gambling addiction or an eating disorder," she explains.

"Family members also come along as well and take part."

The choir is based in a non-residential centre which sees members put through a 48 day recovery programme.

The treatment is described as "abstinence based" meaning users aim to become completely free from the substance to which they are addicted.

Choir members are expected to have been sober for at least 24 hours before rehearsals.

People in need

Despite its unusual nature as a form of treatment, Ms Johnston-Lynch says the choir has been successful: "Most people would say people need to be doing group therapy, they need to be doing counselling."

"But you'll notice a lot of the guys saying that they didn't really feel that they belonged anywhere."

"Taking part in a choir they begin to understand all about communities just through singing."

The choir has taken its members to appear at addiction treatment centres in Gateshead and Bournemouth.

Choir member Chris, 45, says the project has allowed him to "keep connected" to other people in recovery who are also "trying to beat" addiction.

Taking time out from the rehearsal, he reveals how drugs became part of his life from the age of 17.

"I got into heroin in the eighties," he says.

"I had two brother and two sisters. There was only one of us who didn't become addicted to drugs."

Chris, one of the choir's members
Chris, one of the choir's members

Chris takes a deep breath and sits back in his chair as his fellow choir members continue to practice a floor above.

"It's ruined my life," he says.

"I've got a brother who died from addiction. It affected my health a lot. I've got no veins. I've got hep(atitis) C. I've never really kept a job for that long."

He describes the choir as "magical" because he says it has allowed him to build confidence by performing in front of others.

"It's just an uplifting thing," Chris says.

The Duchess of Cambridge became a patron of Action on Addiction in January and previously met former drug users and recovering addicts during a private visit in Wiltshire.

A spokesman for the Royal Family says her work with the charity reflects her personal interest in "supporting people who are in need".

Choir member Dave, 46, says her visit "hasn't really sunk in".

"It is a really big occasion," he says.

"I've got the invitation there for it and once I've used the invitation I'll be getting it framed and giving it to my son."

Back in the rehearsal, choir leader Wibke Hott directs the singers with daughter Josephine strapped to her in a baby sling.

They spend 90 minutes rehearsing two songs ahead of the visit by the Duchess of Cambridge.

"Singing is something really personal and really vulnerable," she says.

"Allowing them to - in their own time - find their voice and find that harmony, they all get there."


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