Wednesday, 4 July 2012

The placement's over - but the project's not...

So that’s my World of Difference placement at Strathcarron all over. It seems like no time at all since I was sitting in a conference hall in Newbury being inspired by Simon Weston’s presentation as he reminded us that ‘every person has value’ and invited us to ‘be brave enough’ to make a difference. Did I manage to do that?

As part of my finishing process, today I presented a reflection of the ‘Myriad of Music’ project to a varied group of Strathcarron staff members. Not only was this a tidy way to conclude my placement – presenting a brief overview of what had been achieved - but it also provided an ideal opportunity to gather more feedback from a cross-section of the Hospice team, and helped me to definitively answer the above question!

In summarising what the project’s achieved, I explained that I’d fulfilled my commitment to: provide the hospice with enough MP3 players to allow for patients to have their own music players at their bedsides for the duration of their stay in the hospice; introduce and implement the idea of helping patients choose personal playlists to load onto their music players; show that talking to patients about music that’s meaningful to them can be a valuable therapeutic tool; help facilitate a method for patient’s to hear their own music ‘piped’ into the newly refurbished bathrooms; build up a digital music library that’s accessible to patients; introduce more in the way of live music to the hospice;  raise awareness and break down barriers by bringing members of the community in to perform for patients; and raise money through a fundraising live music night. I also showed a couple of videos that I've made during my placement. So, in conclusion, I think I can safely say that the project has been a success. I’m proud to have made a difference.

However, I also pointed out that I hadn’t achieved everything I set out to. I didn’t manage to facilitate a system whereby performances could be broadcast onto the ward televisions (which would’ve incorporated a ‘wildlife’ camera, bringing the outside in) and I haven’t left things set up in such a way that an organised group of volunteers can take over the mantle. Oh dear, I guess that means I’ll just have to stay on, as a volunteer, and help keep things ticking over......

I’m actually hoping, with the hospice’s support and backing, to source more funding so that I can continue to develop and build on everything I’ve introduced over this past four months. And that will include involving more of the hospice’s fantastic volunteers and making basic music therapy something that becomes a standard, integrated part of the care package at Strathcarron. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that Complementary Therapy was an ‘extra’ service provided only by volunteers and it’s now facilitated by a mixture of employed and voluntary therapists. My hope is to see the same sort of progression for basic music therapy at the hospice – and my intention is now to focus on combining my counselling training with the development of this type of very basic – but very effective - therapy. In the meantime, I’ll be proud to be swapping badges again and look forward to being part of the incredible team of volunteers at Strathcarron.

Sourcing more funding won’t be easy, but I’ve got to keep remembering that when I applied to the Vodafone Foundation, I only had an idea. Just a simple idea. And I had no evidence to show that it would work. That it would make a difference. I’m in the much stronger position now of having oodles of evidence that it does work, and that it does make a difference. Taking on board how well the patients have responded, along with the extremely positive comments and feedback I received from staff today (and throughout my placement), I can make funding applications armed with evidence that using music at its simplest level as a basic therapeutic tool really does work - and really does make a difference to the lives of people with life limiting illness. I’m under no illusion that it’ll be easy to source funds, but I’ll be giving it my best shot.

I would like to take this opportunity to say a huge thank you to everyone who has contributed to making this project such a successful one: so many of my lovely friends for all of your support; Annie and Jane for creating the Heart of Scotland Choir and reminding me how powerful music can be; the incredible bunch of school children, local musicians and singers who gave up their time to perform for patients so willingly; the amazing staff at Strathcarron for making me feel so welcome - and embracing both me and the project with such enthusiasm; my wonderful family for their support - and patience – while things like housework, my 'real' job in our own wee business, remembering to pick up my son from school, buying milk and being able to talk about anything other than the project were practically abandoned during the past 4 months. Lastly, but most especially, I'd like to thank the Vodafone Foundation, from the bottom of my heart, for giving me this fantastic opportunity in the first place.

So, that’s it, my placement’s over – but the project’s not. After all, there’s so much more of a difference still to make....

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Simply lovely

I mentioned in my last post that I was waiting for a patient's permission before I published a collection of snippets from the last school pupils' visit. I'm delighted to now be in a position to share this footage. The last little section, at the end of the video, sums up what my placement has been all about; using music, in its most basic form, to make a difference. Pupils Andrew, Viktor, Lauren and Mirren made the Day Care patients' day by playing and singing beautifully - and one of Day Care's lovely patients, Dorene, made the pupils'  day by joining in....:

Monday, 25 June 2012

Trying not to feel sad!

It makes me feel sad when I say out loud that I only have four more days of my placement left at Strathcarron so, instead of saying that, I’ll focus on some of the great things that have been going on over the course of this past week or so!

Following a previous successful visit from pupils from Wallace High School, the music teacher was more than happy to bring another small group of pupils along to the hospice. This time, they were given a tour of the Strathcarron by one of the lovely Day Care nurses and it was truly heart-warming to hear the kids chatter animatedly on their return about how ‘cool’ the hospice was! Just as their peers had done a few weeks ago, these talented young musicians and singers then went on to entertain and wow the patients – not only with their musical prowess, but also with their impeccable behaviour, beaming smiles and amiable banter! I have a few snippets of them on video, but I'm waiting on permission from a patient - who has a starring role - before I post it; watch this space!!

It’s understandable when school pupils are a little nervous about coming along to the hospice; unless they’ve had some previous experience of visiting Strathcarron, they just don’t know what to expect. Even with good preparation beforehand, until they’ve actually been in to see the hospice for themselves, and met the staff and patients, they’re likely to feel a little bit apprehensive. However, coming along with a group of pals from school somehow makes the task in hand a little less daunting!

So, it would have been totally understandable if 14 year old Laura Carson had been a tad nervous about coming along - on her own - to play guitar and sing for the patients.  Unlike the other youngsters who’ve performed on their own during my placement, Laura had no previous experience of Strathcarron until she visited last Thursday. She doesn’t have a relative who works in Strathcarron and none of her relatives have been patients in the hospice. However, after hearing all about the music project from her mum (who’s a friend of mine from the Heart of Scotland Choir) Laura asked if she could come along and do something to help. I was so impressed by this lovely young lady’s attitude and her fantastic performance for a very appreciative group of Thursday Day Care patients:


Speaking of lovely young ladies, I’ve also enjoyed seeing my own daughter, Gemma, volunteering at Strathcarron recently. She only managed to fit in a few shifts between the end of term at University and the start of her summer internship, but I’m proud that she’s helped keep up our family tradition of helping out at the hospice! (My mum’s been a volunteer on the ward reception for around 13 years and my uncle volunteers as a Bereavement Support worker.)

Another thing that I’ve enjoyed doing over these past few weeks is spending some more of the money that I’ve raised to buy equipment for the hospice. The list so far includes: 19 Sony Walkman MP3 players;  lots of wires, plugs, chargers and other mundane – but essential – accessories; storage containers; 16 sets of speakers; a docking station and speaker set (for Day Care); a projector with a built-in DVD player; a portable projector screen; a laptop/projector trolley and shelf; a fund for music downloads and 3 Toshiba laptop computers. There were various other things that I’d hoped to donate to the hospice, and it’s been one of my placement disappointments that they didn’t happen. One of the ideas that just didn’t work out, for various reasons, was a camera system for broadcasting and recording performances, and for ‘bringing the wildlife in’ to the hospice. Unfortunately, a package of enthusiasm, passion and funding isn’t always enough to take some proposals forward in an organisation like the hospice; there are many other things, such as practicalities and other complex issues, which have to be taken into account. I am, however, delighted with everything that has been bought for the hospice , thanks to the many, many people who made a donation to my fundraising efforts; either by buying a quiz sheet, or by coming along to my ‘Music from the Heart for Strathcarron’ night or by making a general donation to my Just Giving page. My heart-felt thanks goes to you all.

I’ve not spent as much time with patients as I’d have liked over this past wee while as I’ve been busy putting plans in place to make sure that music remains a regular part of the day-to-day scene at Strathcarron. I’m delighted to have found a young lad who’s offered to help out on a regular basis and I’m meeting soon with another young volunteer whom I’m hoping will take on some of the work too. Some of the ward reception volunteers will soon also be helping out; I’m hoping that keeping basic music therapy going at the hospice can become an integral part of these volunteers' normal duties, when time allows.

I've also been spending a wee bit of time preparing for a presentation I've to deliver next week. This placement has been such an incredible experience for me, and I'm chuffed - and passionate - about everything I've done. However, I'm also extremely nervous about standing up and presenting an overview of my project to staff members, but that's exactly what I'll be doing in the hospice next Tuesday. I'm trying to think about it logically; if I managed to overcome my nerves to stand up and sing my first wee solo part with the Heart of Scotland Choir in the middle of my  fundraising night, then surely I can stand up and deliver a short presentation to a bunch of lovely staff members - many of whom have become my friends over this past four months?! Surely!

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Helping to raise awareness

I'm grateful to the Vodafone Foundation for giving me the opportunity to work at Strathcarron Hospice; mainly because of the help with funding, but also because of the opportunity to help raise awareness. Every charity needs to keep itself in the public eye as much as possible, and Strathcarron is no different.

The hospice must raise over £65,000 every week to continue providing free palliative care to its community. I've, therefore, tried hard to do my wee bit to help raise awareness of the fantastic job that Strathcarron does for its patients and their families. I've also been keen to raise awareness of my project and how beneficial music can be – on so many different levels - to people with life-limiting illnesses. So, I was delighted when the World of Difference site ran this wee feature last week:

Every little bit of awareness raised helps - so many thanks are due, once again, to the fantastic World of Difference initiative and the helping hand it's offered in helping me to raise awareness of such a special place.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Breakthroughs and being blown away

It’s such a privilege to see so many of the patients reaping the benefits of the whole ‘personal playlist’ thing at the hospice. This past week has been particularly rewarding as I’ve been working with two patients, who have varying degrees of cognitive difficulties, with some really positive results. It's incredible to witness even the slightest breakthrough with a patient who's finding it difficult to communicate. I think it’s worth mentioning here, again, that I’m not a trained or professional music therapist. I’m simply using my basic listening skills along with an understanding of how therapeutic music - even at its most basic level (such as listening to a favourite song) - can be. It’s definitely the aspect of the project that I’ve enjoyed the most; spending time with patients then using music to make a difference to their day.

It’s an added bonus when that music is sung or played live. A few weeks ago I invited Lauren McKinney along to sing for the patients. Lauren - whose mum, April, is a Complementary Therapist at the hospice - is 15 years old and would normally be at school on a Tuesday afternoon. However, thanks to the Diamond Jubilee holiday, she spent her afternoon blowing us all away at the hospice with her incredible voice instead! Lauren came along first to sing for the patients in Day Care, then was happy to hang around till later to sing on the ward. As you'll see, my videoing skills haven’t improved much while I’ve been on my placement, but here’s a wee snippet of Lauren doing her thing anyway. I cannot get away with the fact that this voice is coming from a fifteen year old, and a lovely one at that!:

In the ward, Lauren stood in one of the open spaces so that her voice could be heard through all of the rooms. During her repertoire, I walked round the beds to make sure that everyone could hear OK. The patients were all so appreciative and were thoroughly enjoying every moment of this talented young lady’s performance. One person in particular, one of the patients I mentioned earlier who has cognitive difficulties and who has truly been reaping the benefits of using the MP3 player, motioned for me to sit with her while Lauren sang. I knelt down beside her, laid down the video camera and took hold of her hand.  I didn’t realise until later that the video camera was still recording. I’m afraid you can’t see Lauren in the clip but I felt it was worth sharing with you; the song reduced both me and my lovely patient to tears! It’s simply beautiful. So, close your eyes and enjoy - just as many people did at Strathcarron last Tuesday - this awesome performance by Lauren:

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Looking ahead with a very special tune

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the end of my placement at the hospice. One month to go. Booo! So, as well as continuing with - and building on - everything that I’ve put into place over this past three months, I’ll be using some of my remaining time to ensure that patients continue to benefit from music in Strathcarron long after my Vodafone Foundation placement ends.

I’m meeting with a volunteer soon who’s interested in taking over the ‘bringing live music’ into the hospice side of things, and I’m hoping we can work together over the coming weeks, before she takes over the role completely. I’m not looking forward to handing over ‘my baby’, but that was always part of the plan and I’m sure the volunteer will be just as enthusiastic and excited about using local musicians and singers to make a difference as I am!

I definitely intend carrying on with some of the project work myself - but I definitely can’t afford to keep putting in anything like the hours per week that I’ve been dedicating over this past few months! Just like most of the World of Difference placement winners, I’ve worked way more than the 15 hours per week expected of me. So, I’m trying to figure out exactly how many hours I can afford to continue to give as a volunteer, and how much additional help will be required.

I’ve been touched by some of the comments made by staff recently during discussions about the fact that my placement sponsorship is coming to an end. Not only were they complimentary about the work I’ve been doing and the difference it’s made to patients and their families – but also about the difference it’s made to their working day. It’s been suggested that I should think about seeking out the necessary funding to allow me to carry on doing what I’ve been doing for a while longer, as opposed to setting the role up for a few volunteers. “It’s not just the music and the performances and the MP3 players that are making a difference, it’s you. Your personality and enthusiasm’s what we want to hold on to!” I was deeply touched by this comment made by one of the nurses and I felt, as I often do at Strathcarron, truly valued. There’s nothing I would love more than to keep on doing what I’m doing and I’m seriously considering seeking out some other source of funding for it (only if the hospice management support the idea of course!)

In the meantime, I’ll continue to feel incredibly lucky to be part of the Strathcarron team, and I’ll keep on treasuring the moments that I spend with some very special people. One of those special people sadly died earlier this week, but he'd managed to hold on long enough to hear a very special piece of music that was written by his grandson and played especially for him on the radio last weekend. I’ll never forget the twinkle in his eyes as he talked about it during our last conversation together.

And, if you click on 'A very special tune' below, you'll hear a recording of that piece of music that meant such a lot to one very proud grandfather...

A very special tune

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Raising awareness, raising a smile, raising the roof and raising somedosh!

I’ve been itching to write a blog post every night for this past week, but just haven’t had the time. And now that I’ve found the time, there’s too much to include in one post! So, I’m not even going to attempt to cram it all in. Here are just a couple of highlights:

Last Wednesday one of my friends from choir, Paul McKeever, came into the hospice to play guitar with a patient. This particular patient’s been both an in-patient and Day Care attendee for several years. He’s found, in recent years, that learning how to play the guitar helps to take his mind off other things but he’s really lacking in confidence. So, I figured he’d enjoy having someone with a bit of patience, a big friendly smile and a mutual love of guitar-playing to come in to the hospice and ‘jam’ with him – and Paul was absolutely perfect for the job! The staff said to me later that they’d never seen the patient so ‘energised’ and animated. A little bit of music and a big heart goes a long way. Thank you Paul!

Last Friday, at last, was the night of the Strathcarron fundraising event I’ve been organising and I’m delighted to report that 'Music from the Heart for Strathcarron' was a resounding success! The evening was all about raising awareness, raising cash, raising a smile and raising the roof!

Raising Awareness: This is the wee video that I used to kick off the evening. Annie, my incredibly talented Choir leader, sat under the projector screen and played piano while the video rolled above her. She was simply awesome, and a fair few tears were shed through the smiles in the hall:

Raising Cash: I’d hoped to raise around £2000 for the hospice, but I’d been a bit wary about setting myself a target; just in case I was disappointed! However, I needn’t have worried as the final total came to over £3000! I was absolutely delighted, and I’m extremely grateful to everyone who contributed; either by giving up their free time to perform, or by buying a raffle ticket, or by coming along on the night, or by taking part in the tombola, or by giving me moral support and encouragement or...ocht, there are too many things to mention (let alone thanking all the individual people who helped out!) I just feel very lucky and very privileged to have had the overwhelming support that I had.

Raising a Smile: 130 people bought tickets and came along to The Golden Lion Hotel, so the hall was practically full. I was so moved by some of their lovely, warm comments and I was delighted that they all seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. I saw loads of smiles on Friday night, but mine was probably the biggest.

Raising the Roof! A whole host of fantastic musicians and singers helped to do just that. First, we had superb buskers - Paul and Drew - at the entrance to the hotel as guests were arriving (the very same Paul who came into the hospice last week – thank you Paul!) Then, there was Cara and Eoin, entertaining the guests as they arrived in the ballroom with their beautiful folk music. Then there was Annie playing piano to accompany the video. Gorgeous. Then Annie moved her piano to the other side of the hall in preparation for the Heart of Scotland Choir. Aw man, I can’t tell you how much I loved singing with the choir at my own fundraising event. I was so chuffed that so many members came along to support the night and it’ll go down as one of my very favourite choir gigs.

There was the small matter of me singing my first solo part too (I don’t think I’ve felt that nervous since I sat my driving test...), which made the whole thing even more memorable for me personally. Following on from the choir came Gordon’s band ‘A Turtle Called Shelly’. They were fantastic! I felt quite guilty as I’d not expected them to be quite so good! I think it was when Gordon told me that his pal Martin would be playing the melodica that the doubts started to seep in! I was actually immensely proud of all three of my kids on Friday night. They all helped me in so many different ways, both during the event and during the weeks leading up to it. Ross was the perfect host, chatting to folk as they tried their hand at the tombola (pick out ‘The Beatles’ or ‘Queen’ and you win a prize, pick out ‘Justin Bieber’ and you win nothing!). And Gemma, well, her turning up completely unexpectedly to surprise me (she had a Uni exam the next day and we’d agreed that her studies had to come first..) was one of the many highlights of my night. As for Alex, well, I simply wouldn’t have been able to do it all without him. I’m so very lucky.

Completing the live music line-up was the fabulous GT’s Boos Band. Their front man and absolutely brilliant vocalist Greig is a popular member of our choir and, together with John Boos (the amazing guitarist who came in and played for a patient not long after I’d started my placement), Iain Donald (an AMAZING bass player) and the talented Simon Pooley (better known as Cymbal Simon) on drums, they produce a sound that is '100% Bona Fide Rock and Roll!'

A couple of my friends from choir, Paula and Carrie, also joined the Boos Band as guests to sing a few more fantastic songs - and that was the line-up complete. It was such an honour to have so many super-talented musicians and singers perform at my fundraiser for Strathcarron - there certainly was no shortage of Music performed straight from the Heart!

So, the night was a resounding success, and I've now got some free time back on my hands. Hmm, let's think now.......