Building a Buddies legacy from memorable Royal Albert Hall show

A stunning Royal Albert Hall performance by more than 600 children and young people from across Oxfordshire will forever be remembered by those lucky enough to be there.

Now efforts are under way to ensure a legacy is created from that magical, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Oxfordshire County Music Service is spearheading work which will mean the collaboration between pupils from mainstream schools and children with special needs is replicated again and again.

That work by Oxfordshire County Council’s Music Service epitomises the council’s vision for thriving people and communities. As a traded service, supported by the county council, its funding is derived from income and grants including from Arts Council England.

The Music Service’s Buddy Choir and Orchestra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on November 7 on the last night of the Youth Proms. Over 200 of the children participating had special needs and disabilities and were buddied one-on-one with youngsters from mainstream schools.

By the time they had finished with a performance of This Is Me from The Greatest Showman, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

What they said

Cllr Lorraine Lindsay-Gale, Cabinet member for Education and Cultural Services
What a fantastic performance! Many, many congratulations to you and all the Music Service Staff for producing an experience I’ll always remember with huge pride.

Tim Stephenson OBE, Lord Lieutenant of Oxfordshire
Last night was a rare and wonderful triumph… huge thanks for bringing together such an unforgettable, moving and effective evening. Quite wonderful. Marion and I drove back to Oxford positively buzzing.

Chloe Brookes, Relationship Manager, Arts Council England
A quick note to say congratulations on a superb performance at the Albert Hall last night. It was brilliant, beautifully sang and performed, so moving and a really fantastic example of inclusive, high-quality work. Well done. I know how much work went into it and I think the people taking part got a huge amount out of it. I’ll be sharing it with colleagues here at ACE as a brilliant initiative.

Hannah Powell, Head of Music, Aureus School
I was just wanted to say how amazing we thought last night was. Our students from Aureus school thought it was incredible. Even though we have some tired faces today, they are raving about it here. It was such a privilege and they will remember it forever.

Liz Holmes, parent and SEND teacher
Very, very powerful. I teach children with special educational needs and to recognise so many students that I know performing on stage (and singing solo!) was very, very special. I also know that my son gained a huge amount through being a Buddy. The friendships and learning worked in both directions. Many, many thanks again. A staggering achievement.

Richard Venables, High Sheriff for Oxfordshire
I don’t think I have ever seen anything that was so professional, moving, fun or so big. I was so proud and humbled to have been able to watch this.

West Oxfordshire Wheelchair Dance
You and your team pulled off an outstanding event and gave so many an opportunity they could only ever dream of. For that you should be very proud.

Cayenna Ponchionne-Bailey, Royal Albert Hall Production Team
I am sure you are hearing this from every corner, but I was absolutely overwhelmed with the project. Three cheers for you and all those inspirational and incredible children!!!

From various Buddies
I had such an amazing experience I’ll never forget.
My buddy was so lovely, especially considering I had no experience of wheelchairs. Loved it so much I cried.
It was a great experience performing with people who might not necessarily be able to otherwise. My buddy was the best ever.

From a SEND buddy
I had an amazing day and will always remember it

Hard work pays off

Singers, performers and instrumentalists were involved in weeks of rehearsals leading up to the big event, with the help of Oxfordshire’s own John Lubbock OBE, of the famed Orchestra of St John. He founded the charity Music for Autism with his wife after discovering the transformational impact that music had on their autistic son.

The performance started with a piece by the English composer Karl Jenkins, followed by a song composed by the children, some of whom are severely autistic. For youngsters whose disability prevented them from travelling to London, a film was shown of them participating while the musicians played.

Local and national interest

The project has attracted interest both locally and nationally, and now the challenge is to ensure mainstream and special schools continue working together on musical projects.

Oxfordshire County Music Service’s Head of Service, Angela Turton, said: “There’s been a huge amount of feedback. I’ve received hundreds of emails, cards and letters from parents, schools and students.

“There’s a real demand for this collaboration to continue. We are working in close partnership with special schools across Oxfordshire to develop an annual festival.

“In addition, we are developing buddy ensembles, both instrumental and vocal, which will meet each half-term to create a sustainable ensemble along similar lines to the one that performed at the Royal Albert Hall. We’re determined to build a legacy from the huge success of this performance.”

The Music Service supports more than 8,000 children and young people each week and offers activities across a broad range of music genres – including three county orchestras, choirs, ensembles for specialist instruments, Early and Baroque music, junior and senior rock schools, music technology, songwriting clubs, Stringbabies classes for preschool and Reception children, a Dixieland jazz ensemble and four highly-successful Big Bands.