2017 to 30th June 2018
It should first be noted that Winter is and the late Steel was a Veteran having been National Service Officers in the Household Cavalry who saw active service in the Cyprus Campaign in the 1950s. Winter is still in long term abstinence from alcoholism as was Steel until his death in 2023 – between them achieving well over 60 years of sustained recovery – and Winter remains uniquely qualified to mentor Veterans and other addicts in early recovery. Winter has written and composed two songs for the choir (to listen click on the top two buttons on the Home Page) while Steel authored two published and acclaimed books on Alcoholism, Drug and Other Addictions. For Winter, singing and music continues to play a very important role in enhancing his life and continued well-being, as it did for Steel. The motivation behind all of their work continues, through Winter, to show how their experiences can benefit others.
EPRA (Employment Programme for Recovering Addict) was founded in the 1990s as a registered charity created by Winter at the instigation and encouragement of EPRA in New York which was and still is closely associated with The Smithers Foundation in America.
In 2017 EPRA in partnership with CDARS (Community Drug and Alcohol Recovery Services) of Wimbledon Chase was successful in obtaining funding from The Royal British Legion (RBL) to run a pilot project in 2018. The project aimed to help Veterans and/or members of their families in recovery from addiction and other mental health problems to find paid or voluntary employment thus enhancing their recoveries and lives. The project also included music as an enjoyable means of enhancing recovery and well-being.
In April 2018 VV formed a small choir mainly from users of CDARS’ Sunshine Recovery Café in Wimbledon Chase and weekly practices/singalongs were held which proved very popular. At a Breakfast Meeting held on 29th June held in the RBL offices in Borough a decision was taken to concentrate on the ‘Music side of the original RBL funding application. This was because of the difficulties being experienced in attracting/finding Veterans in early or sustained recovery from addiction and/or other mental health problems to the employment element of the project. It is of course well known that the prime psychopathology of addiction is denial and that the people who most need to understand addiction – the addicts themselves - don’t believe they have it. We did not, however, realise at the time just how difficult it would to break this denial - the great majority of addicts don’t want to stop drinking or using. Very few want recovery as it first requires complete abstinence.
The healing powers of music are well known and long established and as it is ‘non-threatening’ and most people like music, the music part of the pilot project was adopted and concentrated upon using VV.
It was felt that by bringing Veterans and Civilians together through music, the programme would help break down prejudice and stigma of each one group about the other as well as help improve self-perception/self-esteem and the general wellbeing of each individual. Participation in the music sessions creates a healthy relationship between the different groups challenging pre-existing opinions/stigma. Moreover, the civilians and veterans relate with each other through a shared goal and passion. Music is also instrumental in combating loneliness and isolation – and it creates camaraderie and friendships. Another enjoyable benefit of this relaxed approach of using music as a source of helping people is that they are more likely to share their problems with each other and in so doing they themselves build a support group and team spirit.
July 2018 to 31st December 2019
In 2018 the choir performed at a total of 14 events/gigs/presentations, the more important ones being at The Royal Chelsea Hospital, The Tree Planting Ceremony at RBL’s head offices in Borough and at The Christmas Party Lunch at the Sir Oswald Stoll Foundation’s (Stoll) premises in Fulham as it was featured on BBC TV London News bulletins - see Gallery/Videos.
From 1st February 2019 members of the choir attended Stoll and organised ‘singalongs’ with residents every Friday from 2 to 4pm. On average over 20 Stoll residents attended each Friday. They undoubtedly proved very popular and beneficial. A repertoire of some 20 well known popular songs are sung by the choir and the residents who are mostly elderly and in the main comprise Veterans and/or members of Veterans’ families – often with one or two in wheel chairs. We have received a number of testimonials saying how much the residents enjoy their Friday afternoons as not only does it get them out of their flats, thus relieving loneliness, but also how much they look forward to each Friday afternoon – see Choir Member Testimonials. The Stoll management is very supportive and enthusiastic and want us to continue the singalongs which throughout we have done so far from our own financial resources – see Other Testimonials
At one of the Friday afternoon sessions Soo Bishop, the director of the Wimbledon Community Chorus (and also a trumpeter if the Central Band of the Royal British Legion) led a successful singing/music workshop while at another Charlotte Howe, an Opera singer and a singing teacher gave the first of what we hope will be a series of singing lessons and it was noticeable how much both raised the choir's energy levels and singing. WO2 Mehmet Kavaz of London District in Whitehall attended the latter session after which he confirmed on video that he was impressed with what he had seen and heard – see Videos.
The highlights of 2019 were first when the choir sang at a concert on Armed Forces Day given by The Central Band of The Royal British Legion and the Wimbledon Community Choir at Trinity Church Wimbledon. The choir joined in the singing of ‘Four Songs of Hope’ and got probably the biggest cheer of the night! – see Photos and Videos
Secondly when on the Saturday afternoon before Christmas the choir took a leading part in a Christmas Celebration in the Methodist Church in Fulham which was well attended. The choir sang well and thoroughly enjoyed themselves –see Gallery.
London Armed Forces Network (LAFN)
Since early 2017 Winter and/or Steel attended the quarterly held meetings of the LAFN run by NHS England and on 17th April 2019 some members of the choir gave a presentation at the end of which all the delegates sang ‘Keep the Home Fires burning’. This went down very well as may be seen from the NHS email received on 24th April the full text of which is reproduced in Other Tesimonials.
In late 2019 two presentations were given to residents of Haig Homes in Merton with a view to replicating in Haig Homes what had become known as the VV Stoll Choir. The 25 residents present were most enthusiastic and had it not been for Covid-19, the project would have gone ahead there in early 2020. Because of Covid-19 this became impossible but, it is our intention to start the project as soon as restrictions are lifted, hopefully in early 2021.
Overall the choir and the Stoll residents and up to at least 50 people have been directly involved and helped in one way or another. Their recoveries and lives will have been and are being enhanced. In addition these 50 have indirectly helped the general wellbeing of members of their individual families, their friends and others. Accordingly and as stated above it is probable that well over 100 people will have benefitted from the project.
On 7th November in the Mayor of Merton’s Parlour both Steel and Winter were each presented with awards from MVSC and the Mayor of Merton Cllr Janice Howard, See Picture Here the citations of which read:
"In recognition of their long service, undying dedication, commitment and outstanding contribution to Veterans Voices (UK)"
Covid-19 has caused us to suspend all of our activities but subject to funding and present restrictions being lifted, we will resume the sessions at Stoll and Haig Homes and expand them elsewhere some time in 2021 when life returns to near normal.
The Co-founders of the company gratefully acknowledge the help received in recent years by EPRA (UK) and it's Veterans arm Veterans Voices and would like to thank all the individuals concerned, particularly in the following organisations:
The Smithers Foundation in New York
The Royal British Legion and also its Central Band
The Sir Oswald Stoll Foundation
The Wimbledon Community Choir
The Methodist Church in Fulham