Press release

Paralympics musicians win Big Society Award

The British Paraorchestra who performed at the closing ceremony of the 2012 Paralympics is the latest winner of the PM's Big Society Award.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The British Paraorchestra performing at the closing ceremony of the 2012 Paralympics.

The British Paraorchestra performing at the closing ceremony of the 2012 Paralympics.

The orchestra which shot to fame after performing with Coldplay at the closing ceremony of the 2012 Paralympics is the latest winner of a Big Society Award, Prime Minister David Cameron has announced.

The British Paraorchestra has been recognised for providing a successful platform for the country’s most talented musicians with disabilities.

The orchestra was founded by British conductor Charles Hazlewood, whose youngest daughter Eliza was born with cerebral palsy and a talent for music. As the Paralympics does for sports, the British Paraorchestra seeks to raise awareness and to shift perceptions of disability by creating a visible platform for gifted disabled musicians to perform and excel at the highest level.

Watch The British Paraorchestra in action

The British Paraorchestra

Since its launch in January 2012, The British Paraorchestra has:

  • written and recorded the theme music for Jon Snow’s Paralympic Show on Channel 4
  • performed a new version of the British National Anthem at Buckingham Palace for the Queen’s 2012 Christmas broadcast
  • been the subject of a major Channel 4 documentary, screened just before the Paralympics Closing Ceremony
  • grown to a membership of 26 musicians
  • performed at festivals and venues around the UK, including the Unlimited Festival, Southbank Centre, Orchestra in a Field and the Snape Proms in Aldeburgh

Prime Minister David Cameron said:

The talented musicians of Paraorchestra inspired a worldwide audience when they performed alongside Coldplay at the closing ceremony of the Paralympic Games.

Paraorchestra is providing opportunities, challenging perceptions and entertaining audiences. This Big Society Award celebrates a phenomenal 2012 for the orchestra and looks forward to an exciting future for everyone involved.

Charles Hazlewood, Artistic & Music Director of The British Paraorchestra said:

I conduct orchestras around the world, and I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of musicians with a disability I have encountered anywhere. There is no platform for musicians with disability, very little in the way of funding - and therefore access to the often-necessary technologies: it is virtually impossible for anyone from this community to make a living as a professional musician. The British Paraorchestra is pioneering a global movement to recognise disabled musicians with extraordinary abilities, and to end the limitations placed on them, not by their physical ability, but by lack of opportunity.

Last year the British Paraorchestra released their first single, ‘True Colors’, with proceeds going towards supporting the ParalympicsGB team and to further the development of the British Paraorchestra and the Kaos Signing Choir for Deaf & Hearing Children who also featured on the single.

The announcement comes in the week that the ensemble performs at the opening night of the Ipswich School Festival of Music.

Notes to editors

The British Paraorchestra will open the Ipswich Music Festival on Thursday 26 September 2013, 7.30pm, Great School. The Ipswich School Festival of Music runs from Thursday, September 26, to Wednesday, October 2.

Case studies

One of the newest members of The British Paraorchestra, Bassoonist Sonia Allori from Edinburgh will perform with the ensemble for the first time in Ipswich. Says Sonia about the Paraorchestra:

It’s the loudest way of saying ‘get involved isn’t it’? Play just play, don’t mind any of the other nonsense, have a go. The musicianship here is off the scale, there are no egos; it’s just everyone sharing and improvising. I’m learning loads already, just because it’s different to your traditional orchestras.

The first thing is they don’t forget about me during the interval and leave me on the stage. Surrounded by timpani and harps.

Clarinettist & composer Lloyd Coleman from South Wales, is visually and hearing impaired, and has just started his final year at the Royal Academy of Music. As one of the first members to join, he says:

We had a fantastic first year in 2012, it’s really nice to get everyone back together again. I remember back in 2011, there were four of us in the room with Charles and we spent the day jamming, trying to create music and see if the idea had potential. Most of my performing is now done through the Paraorchestra, it gets me out of the house and away from the desk.

In a perfect world the need for a Paraorchestra wouldn’t exist. For too long, musicians with disability have not had the same platform on which to perform and engage with audiences. Putting the disabilities to one side, as an ensemble I think it is truly groundbreaking because it mixes together all sorts of musical cultures, instruments and identities. You can actually completely ignore the para element of it and it’s still a tremendously exciting musical group that has been developed here.

I think the audience can expect surprises; I think that’s very much at the heart of what the Paraorchestra is all about – taking the familiar and doing the unfamiliar.

Pianist Nicholas McCarthy was born without a right hand. He is one of a few left-handed pianists worldwide. Nicholas says about the Paraorchestra coming to Ipswich:

We’ve got some exciting projects coming up and exciting new repertoire for the festival which is great. The festival is fantastic with its programming, it’s been so varied over the years. By programming the Paraorchestra to come I think again it’s challenging audience perception as well and I pretty much guarantee they’re going to love what the Paraorchestra has to offer.

About The British Paraorchestra

I would rather be able to play an instrument again than walk. There’s so much joy that I can get from playing an instrument and performing. It’s removed some of the paralysis.

Clarence Adoo, a member of the British Paraorchestra, a professional trumpeter who played with Courtney Pine before a serious car accident in 1995.

  • the British Paraorchestra’s vision is to break down barriers and represent disabled musicians forming a community of gifted people
  • Channel 4’s ‘Great British Paraorchestra’ documentary screened just before the Paralympics Closing Ceremony
  • on 3 December 2012, coinciding with United Nations’ International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the British Paraorchestra released a single – their version of ‘True Colors’, featuring ParalympicsGB athletes and The Kaos Signing Choir for Deaf & Hearing Children
  • proceeds from the sale of the ‘True Colors’ single will go towards supporting the ParalympicsGB team and to support the future growth and development of the British Paraorchestra and the Kaos Signing Choir for Deaf & Hearing Children
  • the single ‘True Colors’ can be downloaded from iTunes
  • the British Paraorchestra plans to release an album in 2014


Charles Hazlewood is a British Conductor. He is the Artistic Director and Music Director of the Paraorchestra.

For more information, images, case studies and interviews, contact Sarah Hickson on 07843 259655 or Emma Richards on 07779 258547

For more information:

The Big Society Awards

The Big Society Awards were set up by the PM in November 2010. The aim is to acknowledge individuals and organisations across the UK that demonstrates the Big Society in their work or activities. In so doing, the aim is also to galvanise others to follow.

The award focuses on 3 specific areas:

Outstanding contribution to community

  • people, projects and organisations that enable communities to drive change themselves
  • projects and organisations that allow the community to identify solutions
  • people, projects and organisations that inspire others to contribute to their community

Improving lives and society through innovation, collaboration and new partnerships

  • people and organisations taking new approaches to public services
  • successful collaboration and partnerships between public, private and voluntary sector, working together to benefit communities

Engaging in social action

  • people, projects and organisations taking action in their community
  • working together for social change (eg through creating groups, campaigns, movements)
  • generosity of time, money, skills and other resources, in support of social action

Launching the awards, the PM said:

There are some amazing projects and remarkable voluntary work going on in towns and cities up and down the country, by all kinds of organisations from large enterprises to tiny grassroots schemes and inspirational individuals.

These awards are a chance to pay tribute to those making a valuable contribution to their community, the real champions of the Big Society, but perhaps more importantly, I hope they will motivate many others to take action, get involved and drive change in their area.

Nominations come in from the general public after which there follows a process of scoring and short-listing by civil servants and a further short-listing by a panel of ministers and independent external experts. This panel makes recommendations to the Prime Minister who makes the final decisions about who to make the award to. 12 winners are decided each quarter meeting and then announced once a week throughout the year.

Big Society Awards - Inspired by 2012: Keeping the Olympic Flame Burning across the UK

The Olympic and Paralympic Games last summer enthralled the nation and inspired over 70,000 people to volunteer their time and energy. Since then, people have engaged with their local sports clubs, tried a new sport, implemented community initiatives, ignited whole towns and villages to commit to keeping the spirit of 2012 alive.

To celebrate the anniversary of the 2012 Games, a number of awards will be announced for innovative groups, individuals and organisations whose work exemplifies the Big Society and whose Olympic-style achievements are making a real difference in communities

For a full list of winners and for more information: Big Society Awards

Enquiries: Lucy Windmill 07795445197

Published 26 September 2013