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Harmonising voices - Staff Chamber Choir fosters wellbeing

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Durham inspires      
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When Kate Ayres noticed that we have many talented colleagues who found evening choir rehearsals challenging, she set out to change that with a lunchtime choir. Many of these were finding it hard to sing in a choir with evening rehearsals due to various commitments such as childcare. This is when the idea of a Staff Chamber Choir with lunchtime rehearsals on campus was born.  

Dialogue caught up with Kate, a Research Postgraduate in our Management and Marketing Department, to find out more about the choir and some recent funding they received through the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Fund.

Our Staff Chamber Choir performing for International Women's Day
Our Staff Chamber Choir performing for International Women's Day

Tell us about the Staff Chamber Choir and where the idea came from…

The idea for our Staff Chamber Choir emerged in late 2019 when I noticed that we have many talented, classically trained musicians amongst our colleagues, who were finding evening rehearsals challenging.

I am a music graduate and keen choral singer and launched the group in early 2020. Unfortunately, after only three rehearsals the Covid pandemic hit, and the choir was forced into an extended hiatus. Fast forward three years, and the choir was reassembled in 2023 by our current management team of Lizzie Ranson (Research and Innovation Services), Catriona Sellick (Chemistry) and myself. We held our first informal performances in December 2023, singing Christmas carols at various locations around campus and serenading a few departmental Christmas parties. In January 2024, Richard Bruce (Social Sciences Faculty Manager) became our choir’s musical director, leading weekly rehearsals and selecting wide-ranging repertoire.

We continue to be inspired by the well-documented benefits of group singing, particularly the significant positive impact on mental health and stress relief. The choir is open to all staff members, regardless of role or level of seniority, and this has enabled lots of new friendships to be made in a welcoming environment.

The choir received some funding through the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Fund. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

We actively sought and were fortunate to receive funding through the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Fund. We recognised the wellbeing benefits that singing can offer, such as fostering a sense of community by uniting people from all parts of the University through the universal language of music and serving as a stress reliever.

These aspects play a crucial role in promoting equality, inclusivity, and diversity within the workplace. Inspired by these objectives, which harmonise with the University’s EDI policy, we sought funding to support the choir’s initiatives.

Specifically, we used the funds to offset the costs of buying new music for our International Women’s Day performance. The music books we purchased featured compositions from female and black composers, underlining our commitment to diversity and inclusion.

We’re very much looking forward to performing further songs from these books at future events.

Choir practice
Choir practice

What does the future for the choir look like? What are your plans?

We’re excited about the future for the choir, and we hope to bring the positive impacts to more staff both across the University and the wider local community.

This summer we’re planning an informal performance around a theme of nature and wildlife in the Botanic Garden on Tuesday 9 July at 1pm. Please bring your lunch, relax on the lawn, and listen in.

Further ahead, we are planning events centred around Remembrance Day, and of course our now annual Christmas Carolling tradition!

Can you tell us about some highlights from past performances?

Our first formal performance as a choir was in December 2023, singing Christmas Carols in the Chemistry Atrium. We were all surprised how lovely the acoustic is in there and this has become a venue of choice!

This was a special performance for the choir not only because it was our first advertised gig, but also because the carols were filmed and included with the Vice-Chancellor’s Christmas message. We were honoured that Professor O’Brien, an experienced singer herself, was a member of the audience of our first performance and we hope to see her again in the future!

What advice would you give people, who are thinking about joining the Staff Chamber Choir?

If you can read music, our choir extends you a warm invitation – even if you are a bit rusty! During rehearsals, you’ll meet staff from diverse roles and departments, forging lasting friendships.

And the best part: just one rehearsal can whisk away the stresses and strains of a hard morning’s work, leaving you smiling for the rest of the day! If you would like more information, please get in touch by emailing



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