Our youth music programme has been running since January 2013. The area between Brixton, Camberwell and Kennington, south London, is one of Britain’s toughest places to grow up. Two teenagers were killed in summer 2018 – one shot, one stabbed – by members of rival gangs, next to our church primary school. Child poverty in these postcodes is higher than in 95% of the country. It is also Ground Zero of the Windrush scandal; many locals are descended from Caribbean and African migrants, and live in constant fear of family members being detained by the immigration services.
St John the Divine Kennington (SJDK) is the local parish church. Its youth work focuses on high-quality musical education. Local children benefit from free and expert tuition in a part of London with almost no free arts provision.
Every week, over 80 young people sing in our choirs or learn the piano or organ with us. Each year we run residential courses for them outside London, including at Cambridge University.
The parish sees music as an agent of change, improving life chances, academic engagement, broadening horizons, and ultimately relieving poverty and creating social mobility.
Our three choirs rehearse every week after school, and sing for church services, singing regularly for Mass and Evensong, as well as Carol Services. They also take part in concerts – they have sung in Britten’s War Requiem at the Cadogan Hall, Bach’s St John Passion at St John the Divine, a first performance of ‘Footsteps’ by Owain Park, in the Chapel of Trinity College Cambridge alongside acclaimed choral group Tenebrae, and twice live on BBC Radio 2. Current projects include preparing Handel’s Messiah in the Royal Albert Hall.
Each summer we run a six- day residential at St John’s College Cambridge for the choirs. The choirs stay in the college school for six days, rehearsing and using the college facilities, and singing for public services in the college chapel. A strong musical and pastoral team accompany the children, including current and former students at Cambridge University. Rehearsal times are punctuated with sports, sightseeing, and learning about university life.
The summer residential plays a major role in widening the educational horizons of our children. They now feel at home among the ancient buildings of Cambridge University – sadly a rare feeling among inner-city state school children. They naturally ask such questions as “What do I have to do to get into Cambridge” and “What’s it like to study here?”
Our consort choir also has an annual residential in different locations. The first, in 2018, was in Walsingham in Norfolk, featuring performances in the Shrine and local parish church. In 2019 we were in Norwich, singing in the Shrine of St. Julian and in Norwich Cathedral for Ascension Day High Mass. In 2020 we will visit Hereford Cathedral.
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