Rhea’s Story For Change
In the end, it seems I took my Stories for Change project pretty literally.
Looking back now it was an obvious choice, but I struggled for a while to figure out what I was passionate about and the whole idea behind this initiative is to do, create, organise or promote something that we hope will inspire and change our community for the better. The following ended up being my version of that.
My family is super musical and my dad has always been at the heart of this. As he was the lead singer in an old school, motown soul band, I grew up listening to Van Morrison, Mark Cohen, the Blues Brothers, Dusty Springfield and the like. Every family gathering was guaranteed to descend into some form of musical chaos and when I was about 12 my dad started to put me on stage as the half time entertainment for his band because it was “safer and made more money than sending me up the chimneys.”
Fair enough I guess. There was no escaping those musical influences and now, I actually sing in a covers band alongside my dad in my spare time.
When he retired a few years ago, he started to go to old people’s homes in Bristol and play the ukulele for them – simply to entertain and break their day up a little. Cute right?
He lives in Cornwall in the summer months and wanted to continue the idea of spreading joy through community music (as well as an excuse to get another pub night into the week), so he gathered three of his mates who had all dabbled with playing the uke before and they started jamming in The Farmers Arms in St Merryn every Monday evening.
But he recognised that there was a way to ramp it up; he’s been gigging in the pub for decades and the landlord and landlady regularly fundraise for their chosen charity Children’s Hospice South West with their own events. It was an obvious jump to turn the jams into something that raised money whilst being fun in the process – and so, in April 2017, the St Merryn Ukes were born.
The initial members performed in the pub a few times aside from their usual practise sessions, but it wasn’t long before word quickly spread through the village and a few more people joined (both complete beginners and those who had musical backgrounds). Starting off with just the four of them, they’ve quickly grown to having 50 members and now play all over the South West at mini festivals, village fêtes, private parties and more. They still meet every week at the Farmers Arms to rehearse, each putting £2 into the pot every time that goes straight into their charity fund.
As of December 2018 they’d raised a total of £1,500 and dad mentioned that he was hoping to “at least match that” amount in 2019. When one of my clients, Lusty Glaze, told me they were organising a string of charity events during January, I figured that that the St Merryn Ukes would be a perfect addition.
I pitched the idea to Lusty (which they loved!) and set to work on the ‘dadmin’ – I mean, first of all we had to make sure all the ukers could get up and down the 133 steps to the beach (some of them are in their 70s!) Once dates and 25+ players were confirmed, I started on the promo. It was booked for a Monday night, in the deepest depth of Cornish winter, still one whole week before the end of January pay day – how hard could it be to get people down there?
First things first, the St Merryn Ukes needed a Facebook page, so I set one up for them from scratch and created content to populate it. As Lusty Glaze already had a well-established page with over 30,000 followers, I created the official online event on their page which reached 10,200 people and had over 200 responses – and we were off!
I then wrote a press release for local media which was published in the Cornish Guardian, West Briton, Newquay Voice and Sunday Independent, Visit Cornwall added the event to their online What’s On Guide and Hello Cornwall published a couple of Instagram posts to their 50K followers. Three of the ukers even packed up their instruments and headed off to Truro to play live for BBC Radio Cornwall! Dad also did a phone interview with Radio Newquay which was played on repeat in the run up to the event.
It’s always nerve-racking when you organise something from scratch – have enough people heard about it? Will they show up? Turns out, there wasn’t a spare seat in the house and Monday 28th January 2019 was a magical evening full of lots of happy faces singing, dancing and clapping along to the Hawaiian sounds of 25 ukuleles down at Lusty Glaze Beach.
On the night, dad presented CHSW representative Amanda with a £1,000 donation, bringing their total to £2,500 since they formed 20 months ago, and we raised a further £310 on the night – not bad for a Monday in January! The ukes went down so well that Lusty Glaze even invited them back for another fundraiser in the summer.
The members of the St Merryn Ukes are amazing; not only do they genuinely love playing music but they show incredible community spirit by donating their time to raise money for such a worthwhile, local cause. They will continue to fundraise every week at rehearsals and at special gigs like this one, with their efforts really making a difference to the care and support that CHSW can offer to Cornish families at their Little Harbour Hospice in St Austell.
Hopefully this (very literal) Stories for Change project brought a little bit of sunshine to those who attended on the night, the ukers themselves and the future of all the children at Little Harbour.
Big thanks to everyone involved, and my dad for being the ultimate inspiration in every way.
If you missed the event but would like to make a donation, head here.
Photography of the event by Joe Cooksey.