Capturing spirit of Clarkson

Capturing spirit of Clarkson

A community choir that takes its name from Wisbech’s most famous son, the anti-slavery campaigner, Thomas Clarkson, is set to feature in a film about the experiences of migrants in Fenland.

The Clarkson Singers, who attend a weekly rehearsal in the Long Room at the Birthplace House of the town’s most famous daughter, the social reformer and co-founder of the National Trust, Octavia Hill, have been selected to provide part of the soundtrack for a film commissioned by the community hub, the Rosmini Centre, a charity which helps to promote cohesion by offering support to migrants.

Journalist, producer and film maker Jake Bowers explained that it was a serendipitous meeting with Loc-Mai Yuen-Brooker, the choir’s musical director, while production was in progress, which had led to him to pop into a practice.   He liked the sound of the 40-strong mixed voice choir, now in its 27th year, and he liked its name – and he invited the members to add their background voice to the production.

He explained that really good work was being done in the town in terms of helping communities – and at the same time local people had been experiencing feelings of alienation because of the burgeoning of East European shops and the buzz of unfamiliar tongues.

Hastings-based Mr Bowers, who regularly visits the Fens to make films, said that the pivotal role played by Wisbech-born Clarkson, who helped secure the passage of the Slave Trade Act of 1807, gave the location for the production a particular resonance.

The film will feature the choir performing ‘Amazing grace’, the hymn written by the converted slave trader, John Newton, now an emblematic black spiritual, together with ‘Swing low, sweet chariot’, in recent times borrowed by England rugby supporters, and a song sung in Russian from Rachmaninov’s ‘All-night vigil’, which has been hailed as the greatest musical achievement of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Mr Bowers said: “ I thought it would create a really nice sound track to have people singing some of those very famous spiritual songs to go with it – and it would be poignant to have songs from different times and different places in a town which is also affected by modern-day slavery.”

His aim was to capture the stories of people who had come to the area, embracing at one extreme 21st century slavery, bad housing, low wages and exploitation and, at the positive end, migrants who had successfully mastered English and happily accessed opportunities.

The 10-minute film is set to be screened at a conference in London in November, which brings together two projects supported by the Controlling Migration Fund, which was set up to help local areas facing pressures linked to recent immigration by providing funding for councils to boost integration, in partnership with Fenland District Council.

Four universities, Buckingham, Anglia Ruskin, York and Newcastle, have been involved in the projects, which have been investigating statistical data about migrant workers and the issue of modern-day exploitation, and the work has enabled the teams involved to learn more accurate information about the immigrant work force and modern-day slavery in a unique rural setting.