Creating change through inclusive communities
Through the creation of Social Inclusion Week and inclusive projects like the Choir of Hard Knocks, Dr Jonathon Welch AM is helping to change perceptions and attitudes about people with disability and people who are marginalised, homeless or disadvantaged in the community.
With a successful musical career spanning over thirty years, Jonathon Welch has a passion for helping others. In 2009, he created and launched Social Inclusion Week making Australia the first country in the world to celebrate social inclusion nationally.
Jonathon says that it was his mum who inspired not only his musical career, but also his work in the community. “I was very fortunate to have a very musical mother who also was very supportive, encouraging and community minded,” recalls Jonathon.
After creating the Sydney Street Choir in 2001, Jonathon went on to lead a singing group of 50 disadvantaged and homeless people in the ABC television series Choir of Hard Knocks. The choir and television show went on to achieve international acclaim, winning multiple awards and performing on stages across the country.
More importantly, the program helped break down the barriers and stigma associated with people who are homeless, disadvantaged or who have a disability and started a worldwide movement of ‘street choirs’.
“After Choir of Hard Knocks became a huge success in 2007, many people stopped me on the street and wrote to me asking how they could help people in their community who were also disadvantaged or marginalised in some way,” says Jonathon.
On an individual level, everyone can contribute to creating more inclusive communities and it is often the simplest gestures that can mean the most. “If everyone can just be a little more outwardly focused, aware and caring of the people around them, that is the first step we can take towards creating a more inclusive society,” says Jonathon.
“A simple hello and a smile could make a huge difference in someone’s day, and inviting friends and neighbours and family to share a meal or a cup of coffee and conversation can ward off isolation and loneliness.”
For members of the Choir of Hard Knocks, the experience has been life changing with many returning to work or study over the years. Jonathan says it gave people the confidence to feel valued and the courage to move on in their lives despite their hardship and to realise their own dreams and aspirations
“Daniel was 28-years-old when he joined the choir. He had been on the streets for about 10 years and dealing with some serious addiction issues. After about 5 years with the choir he had the confidence to realise his dream of completing a university degree that he’d tried to start many times,” tells Jonathon. “He now has a Master in Organisational Psychology and is working in the corporate sector. We stay in touch regularly and he has become a dear friend.”
After two decades leading the Sydney Street Choir and the Choir of Hard Knocks, Jonathon has now started up an inclusive arts charity in Australia, Play It Forward, which he hopes will continue to build inclusive communities for many years to come.
In 2020, Social Inclusion Week Australia runs from Saturday 21 to Sunday 29 November with the theme ‘Connect, Collaborate and Celebrate’. People of all ages and abilities as well as businesses can get involved through sponsorship, hosting or attending inclusive events across the country.
Dr Jonathon Welch AM is a multi-award winning singer, conductor, teacher, songwriter and recording artist with a career spanning over thirty years. Jonathon has been recognised for his outstanding thirty year commitment to the music industry, youth music education and his work with marginalised and homeless communities with the Australian of the Year Local Hero 2008, ANZAC of the Year 2009, an Honourary Doctorate and an Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2009 and an Honourary Fellow of the Australian Council of Educational Leaders.