Skylarks: The Preston choir group unleashing inner songbirds across the area
It boosts the immune system, is a natural antidepressant, and improves confidence. It oxygenates the blood and helps people who have suffered strokes and those living with Parkinson's Disease. It even innately improves your breathing technique. Singing really is a wonderful thing. And the Skylarks Community Choir Network know it.
Built on the principles of taking part and having fun whilst enjoying the countless benefits of singing, Skylarks runs weekly choir groups in Bamber Bridge, Farington Moss, and Chorley. Started six years ago and now run by Lostock Hall-born sisters Jane Swarbrick and Louise Swindlehurst, Skylarks' ethos is inclusivity, promising fun, interactive, and therapeutic sessions.
"We're a singing-for-health-and-well-being choir, we're all-inclusive, and we're all about making you feel better," said Louise. "We have people with dementia and other health conditions come along to the choir, it's all about signing to feel better. One lady said it was a life-saver," she added. "That's a lovely thing to hear. It's touching."
With demand for a community choir growing off the back of Jane's work with the Alzheimer's Society's Singing for the Brain sessions, Skylarks started with a small amount of funding from Lancashire County Council, and never looked back.
"The main thing we're passionate about is that it's for everyone: it's a great thing to be able to get out and sing and make yourself feel a bit better," explained Jane. "It's very focused on community and inclusion, but saying that we also get a great sound!
"People come along and socialise over a cuppa - a lot of friendships have been formed through the group and we've become a big part of the communities in which we sing," she continued. "Loneliness is a problem when you're elderly and we get people saying 'I don't know what I'd do without this', which is heartwarming, knowing you can make a little bit of difference.
"Some people come to all three groups; it's so uplifting."
An estimated 2.8 million people in the UK are choristers, demonstrating that all across the country, the positive effects of group singing are becoming more and more well-known. And with 60 to 80 people at each of their sessions, Skylarks singers have spoken of the 'joyful buzz' of taking part in an activity which 'lifts the spirits and makes the sun shine again.'
"It's amazing to see how it's grown," said Louise. "We started with little groups of 10 or so people sat in a circle, so to get where we are now is a great achievement. We don't take things too seriously; a lot of it is down to Jane, she has a great way with people and making them feel valued and it helps people grow in confidence. Making people feel included is so important."
"It's great to be a part of it; me and Louise work well together what with her background in health and mine in teaching and music - it's a good combination," said Jane, with the group sometimes performing for charity. "The music itself is powerful, but the group itself is so powerful too.
"There's been so much research into the health benefits of singing, even on your cardiovascular system," she added. "If people are anxious or depressed, we include them and sing uplifting songs; I spoke to a doctor and he said it's the kind of thing he's looking at prescribing because of the wide-ranging benefits.
"We had a lady who had dementia and didn't speak come along with her daughter-in-law. Within three weeks, her quality of life had improved and she'd started speaking and communicating. When you hear things like that, it hits home how amazingly powerful it all is."