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A very special children’s choir who combine their singing with caring for others have been handed their biggest musical challenge yet – performing with one of Britain’s leading orchestras at the Royal Albert Hall.

Merthyr Young Carers’ Choir was set up by Barnardo’s Cymru to provide fun and friendship for children and young people who often miss out on socialising because they have caring responsibilities for sick or disabled family members at home.

When the pandemic prevented them getting together face to face, Barnardo’s with the help of funding from Artis Community, organised weekly Zoom sessions led by singing coach Cariann Rolls.

Pre-pandemic they performed for Merthyr’s Mayor and at Cardiff’s St David’s Hall and now, after just two opportunities to practice in person, they will be heading for London where they will be accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

They will be special guests at the Barnardo’s Young Supporters’ Movie Magic Concert which will bring together hundreds of voices from schools across Britain. The concert will raise funds to support Barnardo’s services for vulnerable children and families and the audience will get to see a film explaining the background to the choir. Some of the Merthyr youngsters will also be interviewed by newsreader and Barnardo’s President Natasha Kaplinsky.

The choir was set up by Geraldine Maddison, a project worker with Merthyr Young Carers run by Barnardo’s Cymru on behalf of Merthyr Tydfil Council.

“Our young people often miss out on a lot because they have to help look after a brother, sister or parent. It is a big commitment and can be really difficult at times, but Merthyr Young Carers gives them a chance to have a break from caring,” said Geraldine.

“We start every session with a wellbeing catch-up and the young people really support each other when one of them has had a bad week. They all have something in common so understand each other when maybe their school friends don’t. That proved particularly important during lockdown when they were at home 24 hours a day.

“We have been very inventive during the pandemic and when we’ve all got a bit fed up we’ve just dressed up and had a fun karaoke session.”

There is great excitement about the Barnardo’s Movie Magic concert on November 9. For many of the nine to 17-year-olds, including Lianna Thomas, it will be their first trip to London.

Lianna, 11, who helps care for her mother and brother, has been a member of the choir since it started three years ago. She said: “It has opened the door to new opportunities for me. Our sessions are a time totally different to the rest of the week, I’ve had chance to try rap too. I’ve loved doing concerts and I’ve made new friends.

“I’m really nervous about singing at the Royal Albert Hall but it’s a massive opportunity.”

Angel Wills, 15, joined the choir in lockdown and had only experienced the Zoom sessions before meeting up in person for the first time to rehearse songs for the Royal Albert Hall.

She has performed at the venue before as a member of a dance group but it will be her first concert with Barnardo’s. Angel, who cares for her mum, said: “The choir is great for gaining confidence and making new friends. It’ll be scary singing at such a big venue but I’m really looking forward to it too.”

The massed choirs will be performing songs from films, ranging from Harry Potter’s Double Trouble and Pharrell Williams’ Happy to Consider Yourself from Oliver.

Geraldine said: “Everyone is very excited. Being in the choir has given our young people some great opportunities and I’m so proud of them. Maybe it’ll be Sydney Opera House next year!”

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