“BEING involved in the arts can change people’s lives – and I want it to be as open and available to people as possible.” 

Eleanor Valdebouze is reflecting on the journey so far since she and her husband Stephen Ellis started their community interest company Vocal Footprint. 

The CIC, which offers drama and singing to children, young people and adults, has been awarded a grant of £1,200 from Callington Town Council which will help them expand over the coming months. 

Having begun with a new choir for adults in April 2022, Vocal Footprint added junior and senior drama and singing groups for young people aged five to 18 in 2023, and these take place each week at the Town Hall. 

With more than 50 youngsters involved, the groups have already become established in the town through performances at local festivals and events. 

Giving each young person the chance and the space to find their voice and be heard is something at the heart of what Eleanor wants to achieve. 

She feels that the pace and pressures in schools today and the period of COVID lockdowns has taken its toll on people of all ages. 

“It’s a sad statement on how schools are run, but some of the children who come feel they don’t fit in, or they’re invisible at school. Teachers don’t have the time to spend with individuals. 

“But in the group, they feel seen. The development that we’ve witnessed in some of them in a few months, and the transformation their parents tell us they see, is incredible. A lot of them were kind of hunched, physically, and introverted. It’s literally a change in the way they stand. 

“We want to offer everyone the chance to have a part and be involved, and for some it’s baby steps,” she continues. 

“We do a lot of playing, especially with the younger group, as that’s something I really believe in.” 

Meanwhile, in the adult singing group A-tone-meant, some of the members have gone from “agoraphobic” to feeling confident enough to sing in front of a crowd. 

“For a lot of the ladies that attend it was a really big deal to have the courage to even join a choir in the first instance,” says Eleanor. 

“We don’t audition, and we’ve built up slowly by doing short performances of just 10 minutes to begin with at events like MayFest,” 

“Anyone can sing – it’s a set of muscles! We’re giving people skills, in how to read music, how to sing and perform, and now these ladies have sung in front of hundreds of people. It’s something that can honestly change people’s lives.” 

The successful grant application to Callington Town Council, supported by the Youth Council, will enable the CIC to purchase a laptop, PA system and microphones. 

So far, the adult singers have had to perform acapella, but Eleanor is delighted that the new equipment will open up possibilities in many more venues. 

“It’s a tremendous relief – it’s going to change everything we do. We’ll be able to gig with the children wherever we want.” 

Vocal Footprint is also gearing up for its summer production of Oz – The Musical, where a youth cast will be accompanied by the adult choir as the chorus. 

A grant application to Callington Town Council for £2,500 to stage the show was turned down (councillors felt it would be unfair to other groups doing similar activities to provide such a large amount of funding). But the Council has agreed to waive the cost of hiring the hall during the July  production. 

“The things that is so special about what we do in general, and specifically the shows, is that they are bespoke to our members, from the music to the story,” Eleanor explains. 

“When we were doing Cinderella last year I wrestled with finding a suitable script that would give opportunities to our members - nothing seemed quite adequate. The aim was also to bring together all the members across the age ranges into one show. So in the end I decided to write a piece, in order to offer everyone a chance to have their voice.” 

The organisation was set up as a community interest company, says Eleanor, as she wanted to keep the cost of attending to a minimum. 

“Some places in Plymouth are charging £15 an hour for children’s sessions, which is insane – that’s more than a lot of people earn per hour. I wanted to keep the arts open and available for as many people as possible.” 

To find out more, look for Vocal Footprint on Facebook or contact [email protected]