During my second year at Keele University, my health took a turn for the worse. I was diagnosed with Functional Neurological Disorder and became a wheelchair user almost overnight. I was having regular seizures, and became seriously depressed. If I hadn’t joined KUGC – Keele University Gospel Choir – at the start of my third year, and been welcomed into such a loving community, I probably would have dropped out of university.
KUGC changed everything for me.
The gospel choir taster session on the first week of term was not in a wheelchair accessible room, but, determined to give it a try, I left my chair round the corner and walked inside. At the end of the session, as we were leaving, my legs gave way beneath me and I collapsed in the doorway. I was overwhelmed by the support that everyone showed me as they helped me back to my chair, and I explained to our vocal director a little about my health situation. Horrified that the session had not been accessible to me, she immediately set about putting new things in place. The next week we all squeezed into her kitchen, and after that we had a regular room in a wheelchair friendly building.
Becoming a wheelchair user had really knocked my self-esteem, self-image and sense of self-worth. I had initially felt bad that they were making all these changes just for me but every single choir member made me feel valued and loved, and reassured me that I wasn’t being a bother. They showed me that they loved me regardless of the chair, regardless of any additional needs, and it made a world of difference.
After Christmas, my health started to improve and every small step was celebrated with joy in the choir. When I stopped having seizures as regularly, and started being able to walk a little further, they cheered me on with love and affection. It made me even more determined to continue improving. I had come so far since that first taster session, in my physical, mental and spiritual health, and so much of it was thanks to this wonderful choir.
As we were preparing for UGCY, KUGC rehearsals were full of excitement and joyful worship. Surrounded by my fellow choir members, singing praises to the Lord, was always my favourite place to be. Sometimes our 7-9pm rehearsals would overrun past 10pm, singing and laughing and joking with one another. And regardless of my pain levels, I always came out of rehearsals with a smile on my face… and often a brownie in my hand if someone had been stress-baking!
On the day of UGCY, the judges noted that they could “feel the love” in our choir, which was something I had known since my first taster session. Keele Gospel Choir isn’t just a group of students singing together, it is a community that brought me out of a dark time and reminded me I am loved.
As a result, we gave (I think) the most emotional performance of UGCY 2023. As Lurine Cato said to our vocal director: “when you cry, they cry with you”. And it was true that at the end of the performance, as soon as Amanda started crying, and saying how proud she was of us all, we were all welling up with tears too. There is such a connection between us, such a community we formed, and I felt so grateful that the judges and audience got to experience that too.
I have one year left at Keele University and I can’t wait to see what KUGC does next!