Last month saw the annual Harrow’s Heroes awards ceremony take place in a Grand ceremony attended by hundreds of esteemed guests, including the Mayor of Harrow, Council leaders, finalists and winners.
The awards are held each year to recognise the people that go that extra step to make our borough a better place to live via their contributions to the community. Harrow’s Heroes celebrate and reward extraordinary achievements, hard work and dedication of local people and teams who make Harrow a special place to live and work.
This year, one of the awards presented was the ‘Bringing People Together Award’, won by David Phelops. David was nominated for his outstanding contribution to the people of Harrow and the wider community through More Than Just a Choir, which brings together and benefits those touched by mental illness.
Harrow Online had the pleasure of speaking with David, about More Than Just a Choir and his recent Harrow’s Heroes win.
For residents that don’t know you, can you tell us about your position, when did you start?
“I co-founded More Than Just A Choir in October 2009 (in the guise of Harrow Community Choir) with the backing of Harrow Rethink Support Group, a registered group of the charity Rethink Mental Illness. The group came about after a course, in Harrow, called Confidence for Life, for adults at all different stages and challenges with mental ill-health. One of the course participants expressed a desire to sing. I had previously attended the course, after which, the trainer, Margaret McHugh and I became friends.
“My musical background was through school… Lots of singing and playing the clarinet to grade 8. I played and sang in a few groups and orchestras after school, but had let my music participation lapse for around 15 years. Margaret suggested we start a choir and I offered to help, “just until she found someone who knew what they were doing”. We got going very quickly, within a week, with 10 attendees – one sheet of lyrics and no equipment… I kept asking if someone else had been found to take over, but, strangely enough, no one ever had! Now here we are 13 years later, still going, regrouping after the pandemic, in a new home, having had to leave the Bridge Mental-Health Day Centre. I have gradually learned, on the job, how to run a singing and social group for people affected by mental ill-health and social isolation.”
You have recently won the Bringing People Together Award at Harrow’s Heroes, what does this mean to you and how did the choir react?
“I was nominated by one of the choir members who wanted the work that goes into running a group like ours to be recognised on the wider stage. The choir response was just that. Good to be recognised. I enjoyed meeting with the wonderful volunteers and community-minded souls at the ceremony – that, and the dinner, was a nice perk.”
What is the most rewarding thing about your job?
“So many things – the singing, the bringing together of such a disparate collection of people of differing ages, cultures and musical abilities. Taking those personalities and energies and creating a cohesive group, all pointing in the same direction. I have had the fortune to have had three immensely talented assistant directors over the thirteen years, people who I would probably have not come across if it weren’t for the shared experience of mental ill-health. Janet Bell, with the choir now, was with me almost from the beginning, left for a few years and is now back in the role. The continuity and development is very rewarding.”