A boys’ choir will be performing at a moving ceremony to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of iconic Welsh poet Hedd Wyn – with the help of cash seized from criminals.
Among the members of Only Boys Aloud, which is run by the Aloud charity are singing at the Menin Gate in Ypres in Belgium in November will be Tomos Jones, 16, from Abergele.
Hedd Wyn was the bardic name of Ellis Evans, from Trawsfynydd, who was killed on the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele during World War 1.
He was posthumously awarded the bard’s chair at the 1917 National Eisteddfod in Birkenhead just a few weeks after he died on the front line.
The trip to Belgium will be the choir’s first ever performance on foreign soil.
The 60-strong choir has been awarded a £5,000 grant from the Your Community Your Choice fund set up jointly by North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones, North Wales Police and the North Wales Police and Community Trust (PACT).
Much of the money was recovered through the Proceeds of Crime Act with the rest coming from the Police and Crime Commissioner’s own funds.
Commissioner Arfon Jones dropped in a rehearsal at Rhyl’s Pavilion Theatre to see for himself the difference the grant is making.
He met Tomos Jones who has been a member of Only Boys Aloud’s North Wales choir from the outset and says it’s helped him build friendships that will last a lifetime.
Tomos said: “This is going into my third year and I really enjoy it. I love singing and being among friends. I have had some amazing experiences too like singing at the Millennium Stadium in the festival ahead of the Champions League Final.
“I’m really looking forward to going to Belgium which will be our first overseas trip. My mum, Angharad and dad, Jason, follow the choir and travel to wherever we are performing although my sister, Tesni, isn’t so keen!”
Tomos, who wants to become a police officer, added: “The grant from the Police and Crime Commissioner is so important and we are all really grateful. It means we can continue singing and performing as a choir. Singing is something I think I’ll always do.”
Afterwards Arfon Jones said: “Only Boys Aloud is a unique project that’s helping and benefitting a great many teenage boys from some of North Wales’ most deprived areas.
“I’m delighted the funding we have been able to award Only Boys Aloud is being used to help these committed young people realise their potential. It’s fantastic that they are off in November to Belgium and will perform at the Menin Gate and at the grave of Hedd Wyn”
“The choir really is a credit to North Wales, their parents and the communities from which choir members are drawn. I’m really impressed by the fact these boys turn up week in and week out to rehearse.”
According to Eleri Watkins, the project manager for Only Boys Aloud in North Wales, the Your Community Your Choice grant was vital to pay for the weekly rehearsals.
She said: “Only Boys Aloud is a project that was started by Tim Rhys-Evans MBE in South Wales six years ago. The choir had amazing success finishing third in Britain’s Got Talent in 2012. There is no audition and no charge to all members.
“It was then decided to start choirs in North Wales and two-and-a-half years ago the four choirs, in Rhyl, Wrexham, Holyhead and Caernarfon, were formed. We have gone from strength to strength.”
“We have a real mix of members from varied backgrounds. Some boys come to us suffering anxiety, depression and facing all sorts of problems both at home and at school.
“But they get on and it’s really become a big family. These boys come every week to rehearse. They want to be involved and it’s not just about singing, they learn life skills and have some amazing experiences.”
She added: “It’s going to be a very emotional and touching experience visiting and singing at the Menin Gate in Ypres and we are also going to sing at Hedd Wyn’s grave.
“It’s a costly endeavour and we have been fundraising hard so we can fund the trip to Belgium. That’s why grants such as the money from the Police Commissioner and PACT are so important.
“We really couldn’t function without the support of Mr Jones, PACT and our other sponsors.”
Dave Evans, the PACT project manager, said: “The £5,000 grant is made up of money from the Police and Crime Commissioner’s own funds and the other 50 per cent from the Proceeds of Crime Act.
“I was delighted to come along with Arfon Jones and to see the choir during rehearsal. It’s amazing to see the positive impact the grant is having on these boys and the difference it’s making to their lives.”
Aloud’s Artistic Director, Tim Rhys-Evans, said the following: “It was in a rehearsal with Only Boys Aloud one day that I got thinking about the current centenary commemorations of WWI and I realised that the boys in front of me, lads in their mid-teens, were exactly the type of boys who’d been slaughtered in the name of war all those years ago.
“Had they lived 100 years ago, any one of our lovely boys in OBA could have gone through that hell and, in all likelihood, never come home.
“I’m sure the thousands of Welsh boys who gave their lives in WWI could never have imagined that, a century later, hundreds of fresh-faced teenagers from Wales would travel to where they were killed in order to mourn them in song.
“I hope that this next generation will pass on the need to never forget, so that we may never be plunged into such darkness again.”
Choir member Harrison Daly, 16, of Rhyl, who attends Rhyl High School says joining Only Boys Aloud has been an amazing experience.
He said: “It’s like being in one big family. We look out for each other and I can be who I am and who I want to be. I feel comfortable among the other choir members.
“I have always liked singing and, like Tomos, I’ve been with the choir from the start. It’s been an amazing last 12 months and going to Belgium is going to be just fantastic. My mum and dad Stephen and Sharron try to attend every performance.
“Belgium, the Menin Gate is going to be so emotional and I’m really looking forward to it.”
He added: “Of course we couldn’t do half as much without the support of people like the Police and Crime Commissioner. The grant is just amazing.”
Joseff Wilks, 16, of Llansannan, Conwy, a pupil of Ysgol Glan Clwyd, in St Asaph, says joining Only Boys Aloud presented him with a major opportunity to make new friends.
He said: “I have friends in the choir who share my interests. I don’t feel excluded or left out. We are all friends and share a love of singing.
“I’m really excited about the trip to Belgium, it’s going to be amazing. My parents, Dawn and Martyn try to get to as many concerts as they can and hopefully will be able to make it to Ypres.”
He added: “The first year we really struggled for money and we were all panicking but the grant from the Police and Crime Commissioner is so important and will make a massive difference.”
Flint High School pupil, Youssef Rhouni,15, who lives in Flint, says being a member of Only Boys Aloud has taught him so many new skills.
He said: “I’ve gained confidence and learnt teamwork. I just love singing and think I will always be in a choir if I can although I want a career in medicine. My mum, Karen, gets to as many concerts as she can.
“Going to Belgium is going to be amazing and the grant for the Police and Crime Commissioner is fantastic and will really help us.”
He added: “I have also been with Only Boys Aloud from the start and enjoy the weekly rehearsals and performing at concerts and events. Being a choir member has given me a great deal and I have made lots of new friends.”