Croydon celebrates International Women’s Day

By - Monday 30th March, 2015

Catherine Pestano sings the praises of singing for International Women’s Day

United we stand – freeing all our voices for International Women’s Day.
Photo author’s own.

International Women’s Day highlights women’s struggles for equality, and this year had the theme #MakeItHappen. As a feminist, I am a great fan of women-only space but there is also something to be said for collaborating together to celebrate an oppressed section of society, and to embrace the ‘other’ in oneself. With this in mind, local community arts group Creative Croydon CRISP made it happen on the 7th March, gifting a day to the borough to bring together citizens and asylum seekers, men and women, young and old, to join voices in song.

Singers from the Croydon LGBT asylum-seeker choir Rainbows Across Borders were invited to enjoy the event and connect with the wider community. Profits from the event helped with their travel as they have no recourse to public funds. The group partnered with the regional section of the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) as they were keen to learn more about music and the Alexander technique, as well as less formal music-making approaches.

Image by Hannah Adamaszek, used with permission

Vocal facilitator Delia Rosenboom came visiting from her Forest Row base, and led us in Alexander technique-based warm-ups to liberate our voices and relax our spirits. Frederick Matthias Alexander, an Australian actor, developed these techniques to help him after he repeatedly lost his voice when performing, so this was a wonderful, freeing start to the session. We were then led through a series of songs and chants that acknowledged the power and contribution of the female aspect in our lives. Younger attendee Lou said afterwards that “[the] workshop was very interactive … we came together very naturally as a group and I noticed how quickly everyone felt comfortable with each other. It was a truly bonding experience.”

Everything was taught by ear and unaccompanied, which highlights the harmonies, so we were free to sing without song sheets – a liberating experience! One quieter song with lots of deity names was written on a flipchart, so we sat together in a circle and sang softly with a guitar, for a new flavour. It was beautiful to feel so connected with people of such a wide age range and different backgrounds. As Hayley commented, “Very moving. Lovely choice of songs. Great!” Twenty-five percent of the group was male and enjoyed the workshop very much. Ian reflected, “I thought that the workshop was brilliant. The harmonies were simple yet surprisingly moving. I saw that I was not the only one with a tear in their eye at times.”

Community arts sessions like this can reduce antagonism between diverse sections of society

Professor Amanda Vickery’s recent BBC series on the Suffragettes and the longer history of social emancipation showed how important it is to all stand together for our rights. Community arts sessions like this can help to create the atmosphere for this, reducing antagonism between diverse sections of society and extending feelings of compassion for our shared humanity.

International Women’s Day was celebrated with a fantastic selection of local Croydon events, collated and shared by the council and Croydon Voluntary Action in their public newsletters. To hear more about forthcoming events in the spring and summer you can email Creative Croydon CRISP .

Catherine Pestano

Catherine Pestano

Catherine Pestano grew up in Sutton (standing for Labour), went to school in Carshalton, and college in Croydon. She loves Croydon, her vibrant home town of 17 years, where she works as a Nordic walking instructor and co-ordinator of community arts for well-being. She has a nostalgic fondness for her Brownie and Girl Guide Handbooks and all things Scouting-related. Campfire singing a speciality!

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  • Sean Creighton

    A note on Croydon’s suffragette movement is being published by Croydon Radical History Network in the next couple of days. Readers can contact me for copies at

    • Catherine Pestano

      sounds great Sean! I will email. Will you make your own article here also? It will be easy to share in that case through social media.

      • Sean Creighton

        It is not a narrative but a lengthy set of notes as an aid to people who want to find out more, which is why it is availabvler frome me as a pdf. So if you email me I will send you a copy: .

  • Catherine Pestano

    If you fancy joining us at some other events like this please get in touch here or through