2023 Winner

Marie Benton

Driving force behind the Choir With No Name, empowering homeless and marginalised people to build brighter futures.

Marie, 48, was working for homelessness charity St Mungo’s in 2008 when she realised the sense of community and friendship joining a choir had given her when she first moved to London from Bedford could also help the people she worked with.

She posted a flyer advertising a ‘choir with no name yet’ in homeless hostels across London, and at the first rehearsal, four people turned up. Marie remembers: “We sang ‘One Love’ by Bob Marley. Then we went downstairs and had dinner together and a good chinwag.”

As they carried on singing and eating together every Monday night, their numbers soon began to swell. The group decided to simply take the “yet” out of their title, and call themselves the Choir with No Name, reflecting the anonymity people feel when living on the street.

Today there are choirs in London, Birmingham, Brighton, Liverpool, Coventry and Cardiff, giving all people going through tough times a place to sing their hearts out, among friends.

They aim to help members make genuine friendships, so that they are in a better position to tackle challenges in their lives and move away from homelessness. They also aim to reduce the stigma faced by homeless people and help them reclaim their identity as individuals with dreams and aspirations.

Over the past 15 years, more than 6,500 people have sung with the choirs and enjoyed a hot meal together afterwards. Many have gone on to find work and stable accommodation, and a survey of members this year found nine out of ten had found a sense of belonging, forged meaningful friendships and increased confidence. The survey also found that 75% had achieved at least one positive life change such as securing housing or finding work.

Marie is thrilled with how far the Choir With No Name has come since its early days.

“I had high hopes from the start that it would do well where we were, but I didn’t think immediately it would go beyond London,” said Marie. “But once the original choir started to do so well and we realised how special and impactful it was, it was obvious we had to take it elsewhere.

“I’ve always played music and was involved in choirs right the way through my school days. There’s something really special about it and once you get into it, singing becomes a really powerful happy place. The key to the choir is that singing is so accessible, anyone can do it. We said that from the beginning, you don’t have to be particularly good to get started, just come along, join us and you’ll get better.

“But it’s not just been that, of course. It’s the friendship and companionship and sense of purpose that’s made the real difference to people – and it wasn’t totally selfless from my perspective, I’ve made countless wonderful friendships and had a ball along the way.”

Marie, who handed over the reins as CEO in 2022 and now works with a different charity in Brighton, is still a huge supporter of the Choir with No Name and goes along to rehearsals when she can.

“It’s brilliant to see how far it’s come since we started out with four members all those years ago,” she says. “The fact it’s grown and evolved so much in that time, and still continues to reach new people is amazing. I’m really proud of everything we’ve achieved – and I’m excited to see where the choir goes next.”