Haven House Hospice’s pay for a day appeal could pay for life-changing music therapy

Music therapist Maeve Rigney

Music therapist Maeve Rigney - Credit: Archant

Providing music therapy which can help seriously disabled non-verbal children to communicate is just one of the benefits of supporting a Woodford Green hospice’s charity appeal.

Music therapist Maeve Rigney

Music therapist Maeve Rigney - Credit: Archant

Haven House Children’s Hospice, High Road, is asking fundraisers to find £3,835 to pay for a day’s care for children with life-limiting conditions and their families.

And among its myriad services, your money could pay for a music therapy session in which a young person uses his voice for the first time or has the unique opportunity to touch and play a musical instrument.

Music therapist Maeve Rigney, 28, of Highbury, has been working at the hospice for two-and-a-half years, offering her services for one day a week in which she can reach 10 children.

She said: “Evidence shows music is processed in both sides of the brain – it’s a core function so the children have the innate ability to respond to music and to be musical.”

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A key part of her job is tailoring sessions, whether in groups or one-to-one, to each child’s ability.

Children at Haven House can have very complex healthcare needs – they may have to use a wheelchair, have very limited motor skills and the majority are non-verbal.

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But through singing, traditional instruments such as piano, guitar, tambourines and chimes and state-of-the-art equipment like a sound beam, Maeve can help each child to take part and make music.

She said: “It’s trying to find the ability in every child and you can see them becoming the child.”

That is clear in the reaction of George, who breaks into a big smile when Maeve sings a song welcoming him to the group during the Recorder’s visit.

The three children taking part are encouraged to move their bodies in time to the music, which may require the help of a carer; to choose instruments they like and to touch them.

The sound beam converts even the smallest physical movements, such as the blinking of an eye, into musical notes by using a motion sensor.

The gift of former mayor of Waltham Forest, Geoff Walker, means a child with cerebral palsy, for example, who may have little muscle tone, has the chance to make music.

The sessions can aid non-verbal communication, developing a child’s eye contact, their listening skills and their concentration and where possible, to use their voice.

Maeve said one 13-year-old boy, Thomas, who was born with a brain injury and who has had weekly 30-minute sessions for more than a year, has made great strides.

She said: “I see music as a language. Thomas, who had no language skills, now really uses his voice in a very melodic way.”

Thomas’ mother Jane added: “It is a precious thing to see him suddenly make a connection and realise he is doing so.”

Updating parents on their child’s progress is one of the most enjoyable parts of the job, according to Maeve, who previously volunteered with children on the autism spectrum before studying for a master’s degree in music therapy.

And as the session progresses, there is a noticeable change in the children’s demeanour.

They appear more relaxed, their eyes light up and they often break into smiles and you realise that for a typical child at Haven House, it must be a welcome break from hospital appointments.

Maeve said: “Music has a physiological effect. How the child may be breathing, if they are very physically limited, if you start playing to a child and singing, their breathing can become quite steady.”

Her ambition is to extend the hospice’s provision, with weekend work being considered and plans to repeat a workshop with parents which encouraged them to sing to their children.

It’s something the Pay for a Day appeal could go a long way towards helping.

Maeve said: “The caring side of the staff is just one thing that blows me away. It feels like coming to a really special place every day.”

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