In some apartment blocks, you can go for years without knowing who your neighbours are. That’s not the case at Glenhurst Gardens in Darling Point, where the active social committee initiated a Sunday night choir session during isolation.

I recently spoke to interior designer and long-time Glenhurst Gardens resident Donald Campbell about the choir and the camaraderie in the building.

Donald, how long have you lived at Glenhurst Gardens?

Originally we lived in the next street and were looking around for places to buy. We looked in Potts Point and Point Piper and Woolhara, but we really wanted to stay in Darling Point and ended up moving three doors down, to Glenhurst Gardens. That was 25 years ago.

It seems like a really special place to live.

Oh it is! It was designed with an understanding of the elements and it’s a very egalitarian design – no matter which floor you’re on, all apartments have good views, northern sunlight and windows on both sides allowing cross ventilation. It’s also got a well cared-for Victorian garden, which is full of walks and grottos and ponds. The pool dates back to the 1940s. There’s also a real sense of community; it’s like a village in the sky. People tend to live here a long time. One of the first residents moved in in 1958 and lived there til she was 104! Lots of generations of the one family live in the building too – my mother has an apartment here, and we know of an aunt and a niece living here. There are lots of young families, too. It’s very diverse and friendly.

I hear you have quite the social committee…

Yes. I’ve been on the board of the building for four years and three years ago I became the chair. We put out a survey to all the residents about creating committees and the social committee came out of that. It has become a really active committee. During Covid-19, people have been locked in their apartments, feeling stressed and worried, and we wondered if there was anything we could do to give them a sense of optimism and relief. We came up with one idea to have drinks every Wednesday and we’d have colour themes – one Wednesday was pink drinks and you had to wear something pink or drink something pink and at 6pm we all yelled ‘Cheers’ from our balconies! It was wonderful to see a whole facade of the building basically chattering from one balcony to the other.

And you’ve also started a Sunday choir!

Yes. It’s not a new idea – as you know, they were singing from their balconies in Spain during coronavirus. But we adopted the idea and thought, well why don’t we try it? We have 94 apartments and got about 80% of our residents participating, which has been extraordinary. There was a bit of reticence at first with some people who didn’t feel they were good singers but it didn’t matter! We just said, ‘All you need to do is sing off your balcony!’ And since then people have run with it, looked forward to it and loved it.

Have you discovered some great singers in your midst?

Yes, we have one resident who did have an ambition to be an opera singer and likes to sing, but he was nervous and shy. And we got a microphone and stood him out the front [leading the choir] and he said, ‘Look what you’ve done to me, I’m a shy person and you got me out in front of 94 apartments singing’! There have been other residents who’ve turned out to be fabulous singers as well so it’s just been a great success.

Thinking of selling?
Just researching the market?

Any memorable songs? How have you chosen what to sing?

Oh we’ve had ABBA and Johnny Farnham, and It’s A Wonderful World. The songs are requested and chosen by the social committee and a lot of the songs have a theme about caring, or love or being optimistic. We email everyone the lyrics and print out copies for the few people who don’t have email.

Do you think it’s really helped everybody’s mental health doing this?

I think it has, because it’s very easy to go into a bit of a decline when you’re isolated. And when you’re isolated with something and you can’t even can’t even see your children or your grandchildren, it’s a pretty bizarre, foreign situation. It’s helped shift people from feeling glum to having something to look forward to, and I think it’s given us a sense of optimism. It just goes to show you can be physically distant but socially connected. It also extended beyond our immediate community, with some of the neighbours planning their afternoon drinks to coincide with the singing!

How many Sunday choir sessions have you done?

We’ve done around eight, but we’re taking a little break now because the restrictions are starting to change, and a few people involved with it want their Sundays back.

What’s next for the fab singing residents of Glenhurst Gardens?

We may reinstate the Sunday singing at some point, and we’re already talking about other events we might do, like Christmas carols, maybe! Watch this space.

What a fantastic example of people coming together and boosting community spirit during these isolated times – we can’t wait to see what the Glenhurst Gardens residents do next.