Hands and Voices Celebrate 25 years of fun, friendship, and fabulous music-making

We couldn’t look back at the last 40 years without acknowledging another big birthday here at AAM. Hands and Voices, our fabulous singing and signing choir, have been celebrating 25 years of making music together!

What an epic achievement!  

Performers dance, sing and sign at AAM's Big Birthday Bash event

They’ve played a massive part in shaping the AAM that you see today, so we just had to celebrate.

Established back in 1997, Hands and Voices was one of the UK’s first singing and signing choirs. Led with the vision that everyone should be equally valued, celebrated and challenged, the choir put its best foot forward. And, quite frankly, they haven’t stopped since!  

Hands & Voices practice for Midsummer Night's Dream

Over the next 25 years, the choir devised and performed in dozens of legendary shows. To help us put the initial shows together, we brought in Andy Stafford as Assistant Director to Director Chris Bartram.Andy’s part of the Gateshead-based independent theatre group, The Lawnmowers.

At the time, The Lawnmowers were one of the only organisations in the UK training learning disabled actors professionally, and we were thrilled to have Andy on board. Through his mentorship, our actors were able to build their skills and confidence and deliver brilliant performances whilst promoting a positive model of disability.  

We’d be hard-pressed to think of a favourite performance over the years, but one thing’s for sure - we’ve had lots of fun and laughter along the way. Here are a few favourite moments. There was the dragon dance in our performance of Knights and Angels that included a huge pantomime dragon made by the cast

We love the little details like the nose ring on its snout!

Dragon costume made by Hands & Voices participants with people inside it

Another fab moment was when we persuaded The Guildhall to let us give our Sleeping Beauty show an ending like no otherWe’re not sure how, but we got permission to drive a motorbike around the venue before riding our Sleeping Beauty off into the night! How epic is that? The actress who played the title character had always dreamed of being on a motorbike.

With The Guildhall's help, we were able to make her dream come true! 

 Participant sits on the back of a motorbike

Go on, we’ll give you one more. Does anyone remember the ‘Good Old Days’? We do! We were in stitches and had a hard time keeping quiet for this silly silent movie. This celebration of 10 Years of Hands Voices was an absolute hoot.

It had everything you could imagine from a coppers and convicts chase, damsels in distress and chickens (of course!).

 Performers dressed as cops and robbers chase each other on a lawn 

Not forgetting the incredible Cabaret of Dreams in 2017And what a dream it was!  Our most ambitious show to date, the production marked 20 years of Hands & Voices and 35 years of AAM. 

The creative process was entirely participant-led, with the production co-devised by the cast. It took our user-led model to the next levelCabaret of Dreams was also a real AAM family affair– it was the first time that AbleWeb and our Sensory programme got involved.  

 Choir perform on stage as part of Cabaret of Dreams

The show drew on the diverse talents, skills, and personalities of all the AAM groups who took part. The choirs sang, AbleWebs brilliant videos were shown throughout the show and the props were created by our Creative Sensory group.

It was a fantastic way to celebrate 35 years of AAM and 20 years of Hands and Voices. We’re biased, but we think they did a cracking job!   

 Close up of performers for Cabaret of Dreams

If you’d like to look back on this fabulous production, head to our YouTube channel, where we’ve uploaded some clips. Or read this fabulous review from York Press. 

Being 25 years old, it's no surprise that Hands and Voices have performed in and around York more times than we can remember! You may have seen them busking at the local supermarket or caught one of their legendary Christmas performances in the City Centre.

Wherever you see them, they’re guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. We’ve asked some of our members to tell us how Hands & Voices makes them feel, and here is what they had to say: 


‘Bubbly and fun’   

‘It makes me very happy, and I know that I’ll have a very fun time. Just meeting all my friends and seeing everybody’ 

A still taken from an online Hands & Voices Zoom video

In the last few years, like everyone, we’ve had to adapt and respond to worldwide events. In uncertain times, we had to keep going and be positive

So, within two weeks of the first lockdown startingin March 2020, we moved our projects online. From then on, we held our weekly sessions, first on Facebook Live and then on Zoom.  

During this time, many of our participants were among the most vulnerable and were shielding due to underlying health conditions. We knew the importance of consistency and routine, and how vital this was to their well-being.

So, each week, we came together with friends to hang out. We got up to lots of exciting activities, all from the comfort of our own homesWe also worked with partners on some fab projects, such as Mind the Gap’s Doodle Book and BounceBack Food’s Secret Dishes from Around the World recipe book.

If that wasn’t enough, we even created some ace music videos of our ownCheck out this wonderful performance of Let's GFly Kite':

We’re still meeting every week to hang out with friends old and new, only now, we’ve gone hybrid! We’ve created a model that means participants can join in either online or in person, whatever they’re comfortable with, meaning they won’t miss a beat! 

The last 25 years have been a blast and we can’t wait to see what the choir get up to next.  

You can help lay the foundations for the future of Hands & Voices. By donating today, you’ll be paving the way for another 25 years of smiles, friendships and brilliant performances.