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August 26, 2020

Shivani Daxini has just completed her internship with Citizen Songwriters through Durham University's Social Enterprise Live Project. She shares her experiences of working on the Citizens Online project which has been keeping the community connected during lockdown.

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"Together we are stronger, but apart we are safe"

As I stare at my screen waiting to be ‘let into the meeting by the host’ via Zoom, I think back to my interview for the internship I’m about to start and how It’s not quite the first day at work I’d expected. Sam is the Director and founder of Citizen Songwriters a social enterprise based in the North East of England that enables people from diverse backgrounds to share their stories through song writing. As we begin chatting virtually his zealous passion towards social harmony inspires me to ensure I fulfil the organisation’s vision. We’re only a few days into lockdown and its clear neither of us can predict the future of Citizen Songwriters but we’re united by a common sense of relief that the work of Citizen Songwriters can and will go on.

The coronavirus pandemic forced many to stop work altogether, or to adapt to the circumstances and work from home, and for Citizen Songwriters this meant, a unique, impromptu creation of ‘Citizens Online.’ It was always the idea that for the duration of my internship I’d throw my energy into social media, marketing and digital strategy, so the circumstances presented by the pandemic seem to make my role of reaching individuals, communities and likeminded citizens more relevant than ever and I’m determined to reach as many people as possible during this period of social isolation. Citizens Online is facilitated through Zoom and allows once strangers to become friends as The Citizens Online team lead song writing sessions for absolutely anyone across the country. I am amazed by the sheer resilience shown by facilitators Sam and Alex who are determined to not let the challenges of virtual singing and song writing stop them from giving participants a platform to share their stories, passions and opinions.

The power of Citizens Online was epitomised during Refugee Week. The Citizens Online special saw over 12 participants from all over the UK come together to write a song on the theme ‘imagine’ by bringing their own experiences and stories to life through song writing. I sit in awe during the online session, my laptop on my lap simply amazed by the ideas and collaboration of all participants to make each other’s ideas work. One participant highlights the power of diversity and unity through song writing as he translates the group’s co-created lyrics into Spanish. I find it easy to translate what he’s singing since we previously heard the lyrics in English, and the Spanish words start to seem familiar, but I realise, what it is, is the eagerness and participation from the whole group that make things flow so easily. These once strangers effortlessly communicate with each other despite the challenges of using Zoom as a virtual singing platform. I sit smiling throughout the session thinking how this is definitely my favourite working hour of the week, or whole internship.


Sharing a love for storytelling

The past few months inspired me to reach out to like-minded social enterprises, charities and other organisations who all share enthusiasm for maintaining the magic of grass roots community based activities during the pandemic, but there is something I can’t ignore. Whilst there has been endless success from Citizens Online’s adaptation and flexibility amidst the lockdown, one challenge remains: primarily access to the necessary resources and facilities. Laptop Internet access and a quiet work space, is something many of us may take for granted but I know this is not a given. As school children adapt to online learning and communities are forced to interact virtually or not at all, it is vital that we don’t take anything for granted, and don’t assume that everyone is a Zoom genius. The methods and action plan put into place by Citizen Songwriters definitely allowed strangers to become friends, and people to share their love for music from the comfort of their own home, but I know that challenges remain and I know that Sam and co-directors Pippa, Alex and Stacey will not stop here. As the directors look towards the future, and the beginning of the new school term, it is the hope that Citizen Songwriters will be able to contribute significantly to the creative learning of children across the North East. I know that as I come to the end of my internship that the hard work has only just begun. As our world continues to change and adapt, those of us who work within communities and feel strongly about bringing people together, celebrating differences and finding common ground must face up to the various challenges which come with reaching diverse communities virtually. Director Pippa Bell highlights the utmost cruciality of ‘ensuring that this new world of virtual interaction can reach those most vulnerable and  those most in need, which is challenging as it is often these people and communities who don’t have access to online communication.’ However, the work of Citizen’s Songwriters during social isolation has proved that individuals from across the country can and will come together to share their love for storytelling through creative methods, and it is more than possible to create community online. It has been clear for the past 3 months that togetherness creates strength despite the virtual aspects of the new methods being used.

The Online Zoom calls have most certainly brought together people, creativity, and song but the sheer beauty and magic of human interaction has certainly not been replaced. Perhaps, this period of socially isolated interaction has reinforced the very importance of physical interaction, specifically within this creative industry which requires precision, accuracy, and attention to minute details. The limitations of virtual connections pose a sense of lacking as music is such a communal activity, however this has merely been a challenge which must be faced rather than a permanent boundary. The team at Citizen Songwriters are currently developing resource packs aimed at teaching primary school children in East Durham how to play the Ukulele and Citizens Online hope to create more ways of having a meaningful impact within children’s education as they look towards the future. Whilst the Citizens Songwriters community may not presently be together, the vision is being lived out on a daily basis and impacting different groups and individuals even if it is from a virtual distance or in the form of a resource pack.  ‘Together we are stronger, but apart we are safe,’ as our participants once sang.

Written by Shivani Daxini, August 2020

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