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Sarah Cay holds the microphone to an old man who is singing in a chair while wearing a Christmas hat, Sarah is also singing. Choir of mixed ages sings behind him. A lady in a Christmas hat holds the music to him also singing.

Charity choir founder starts breathing course to aid COVID-19 recovery

A woman who founded ten charity choirs has created a breathing course to help ease the aftereffects of COVID-19 and other breathing problems. 

Sarah Clay, 42, the founder of Kingston-based choir charity Voices of Hope, launched the Active Breathing Course (ABC) on 15 April, and is crowdfunding to provide the course for free, having raised just over £1000 of the £10,000 required.

Sarah spent two and a half weeks in hospital suffering from COVID-19 last year and after witnessing the strain the illness caused to breathing she applied her musical training as a singer and flautist to create ABC. 

There is a lot of experience in the arts with learning how to exercise the lungs, Sarah explained.

She said: “Seeing people discharged but still chronically ill was the most impacting thing.

“It was upsetting to see people once leading normal lives being sent home with oxygen cylinders, struggling to move from bed to the bathroom.”

Sarah Clay being presented with an award for outstanding contribution to the community by the Mayor of Kingston upon Thames
Credit: Voices of Hope

Voices of Hope, formed in 2019, runs ten choirs for the elderly, people with dementia and mental and physical health problems, homeschooled children, and people who have suffered from abuse, violence and homelessness. 

In elderly choirs, one third of the work was centred on improving members’ use of their lungs through breathing exercises. 

One elderly choir in Woking, the first Sarah set up, began producing no sound, but after a few weeks of work they could sing.

A technique transferred from the choirs to ABC is diaphragmatic breathing, learning to control the diaphragm through deep-breathing exercises, increasing lung capacity. 

The three other techniques taught on ABC are: phonating, creating sounds through a straw to strengthen breathing power; singing, which reduces shortness of breath and releases endorphins; and creative recovery such as making art using breathing techniques.

EASY AS ABC: Straw phonating. Credit: Voices of Hope

ABC aims to bring people on the same journey together, and to get people to engage in their own recovery.

Sarah said: “What do you do if you can’t do the normal things you would do in recovery?”

ABC has involved Richmond, Kingston, and Elmridge GPs to help people get access to the course. 

GP at Holmwood Corner Surgery, New Malden, Dr. Annette Pautz, said it was important for people with ongoing post-COVID-19 symptoms to attend courses like ABC for further support in a non-medical environment. 

Each course will be taught over Zoom in classes of eight to ten people for 30-40 minutes.

Those who are interested can self-refer using their website or via a Richmond, Elmridge, or Kingston GP. 

Those who would like to help Sarah run ABC for free can donate at her Gofundme.

Featured image credit: Voices of Hope

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