Written by Lily Fontaine, as part of Youth Music Next Gen.
Led by Gareth Howells and Angeline Conaghan, Groundswell Arts is a community arts organisation based in Haringey, North London, that provides interdisciplinary education projects intending to encourage learning and exploration, play and sharing, while supporting children’s wellbeing and communication.
Sing Our Story (formerly the Lullaby Project) is a project funded by Youth Music that is designed to use song writing to support children’s early musical development while increasing their confidence, emotional wellbeing, and creating a stronger relationship between schools and parents.
I spoke to Beata Venugopal, a parent who worked with Sing Our Story to create two tracks - one for her youngest son Alex, and later, a song for the whole family. She told me about her experience with the project and the wonderful impact it has had on her and her family’s life.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your family?
I moved from Poland in 2008 and I met my husband in the hotel where I worked. I started as a cleaner and then became an assistant. I was a single mum with one child already, and now I'm a single mum again with four children: Oscar is 16, the second and third -Lyla and Marcel -are twins, and the youngest, Alex, is 4.
Did you make music before getting involved with Sing Our Story?
I love singing and I love dancing. I don't do it in public because I don’t think I'm good enough. When I was a child, I always wanted to play the piano, that was my dream. I learned how to play the flute in school, but don’t ask me to do it now! Music is in our life every day. I've got a video of Lyla and her brother doing a show when they were little; there was always music in our life because I always listened to it.
How did you first get involved with Groundswell Arts and Sing Our Story?
I was invited when Alex started school. When I first heard about Groundswell Arts in the school, I wasn't very interested because I didn’t understand what it was about - I’m not involved in much because I’m not sure if I understand - I thought he was just going to learn how to sing some songs, and I would be there to just support him. I also wasn’t sure if I had to pay something, and I wasn’t sure if I could afford it (Sing Our Story is free for participants).
What happens at a typical Sing Our Story session?
We were asked simple questions like, what Alex likes and what kind of friends he has, and from these simple questions came a really beautiful song. For me it was a new experience in my life because I had to say something about my children and to be honest, it is hard. You know them, but when someone is asking you questions, it's difficult. You realise lots of things that you don't recognise every day. Alex was funny because he's the youngest and he knows a lot about himself.
I'm happy that Miss S [Alex’s teacher] was with us in the session because she helped me to say more about Alex. Of course, he is my child and I know him, but I don't know how he is at school, whereas she works with him so she knows him well and could add her thoughts. She also helped me with my English and how to say what I was trying to say - even in the last session when we were singing, she was there and that was supportive for me as well. We also did a sharing session with all the other families and that was amazing because everyone got an individual song for themselves - no song was the same.
What have been your favourite experiences as part of Sing Our Story?
Listening to the song for the first time, I was in tears a little bit, but there were lots of people so I couldn’t really show how emotional it was. Life might be hard for me, but when I listened to the song it just melted my heart because it was about us - even my language is included because Alex knows how we say I love you in my language.
How has Sing Our Story helped you personally and socially?
Every summer, when it is nice weather, we lay down and watch the clouds - it's not just in the song, we actually do it. It’s amazing because you'll see one thing and your child will see something else. I'm on a childcare course, and we were talking about this - that children see things differently than we do. When my daughter would put her clothes under the bed it always made me mad because I like a tidy house, so it would lead to arguments.
The song just completely changed my thinking about that because it made me realise that the big things for me can be really little for her. It is 100% because of the song that I changed how I talk to her, which made us closer to each other because I'm not shouting because of stupid things now.
I always worry that I'm doing badly as a mother. I don't feel good enough. Listening to them made me realise I’m not that bad; every family has problems. When I hear that song it gives me relief from worrying about how I am with them. Life can change because of the song - our song made me realise that actually, I am important.
What is it like where you are from in Poland?
I came from a family living in poverty. Even now, I wouldn’t say I'm sleeping on money, but I’ve got a good level. When I was a child growing up in a poor family, I would never dream of these kinds of things. I believe, in all adults, we've still got the child inside, and when I was a child I always thought I would like to be on TV, just for one second. So, if I had this kind of song in my childhood I would’ve listened to it every day.
My friend from Poland asked me: where did I do that? Who is singing this? I don't think they do these kinds of things in Poland but I think this idea should go everywhere in the world.
What are your plans and hopes for the future?
This project has made my children closer and I hope that when they may be sad, they are going to listen to this song and it will remind them that they have their place in the family. When people are growing up they go on their own paths, but I would like for them to still have contact. I've got more siblings, five of us, but I don't talk to them very much, so it’s my dream to keep them together. I think it will help my children recognise that they are really close, they are family, and they can count on each other.
What has working with Sing Our Story meant to you?
For me, I think it’s going to be for my old age when I am alone. I will just remember how it was when they were little. It's not just for five minutes, it’s for the rest of your life as long as you don't lose it. This is something so personal and that actually happens, and the music leader’s put it into a song.
Some children don’t see anything for them in the future, but through this song, parents can give them hope. I brought up at the end of our family song, for each of my children, that I believe in them - because nowadays you dream about something and when you grow up, these dreams are forgotten.
My son wants to be a footballer and I believe he can be. You just follow your dreams, even if you don’t have much money you still can try your best to do what you like to do. I could say to my child ‘I believe in you’ and my kid would just think, yeah, I know, because you are my Mum. But, when he heard it in the song, and that it is actually about him and lots of people can hear it, it is different.
It has had a very good impact on my life.
Thank you to our funders; the National Lottery via Arts Council England, players of People's Postcode Lottery, and support from donors, partners and fundraisers, who make our work supporting young peoples' lives through music possible.
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