“EVERYBODY has the right to communicate, and music can enable these children to, sometimes for the first time.”
It might sound obvious now, but when Jessie’s Fund started working in children’s hospices nearly 20 years ago, there was no music therapy provision in any UK children’s hospice.
The pioneering charity, which helps seriously ill and disabled children to communicate through music, is one of three nominees for this year’s Yorkshire Children of Courage Awards (YCCA) group award.
It was set up by York musicians Lesley Schatzberger and Alan George, whose daughter Jessica, died from a rare, inoperable brain tumour at Martin House Children’s Hospice in Wetherby in May 1994. The fund was initially set up to pay for treatment in the United States, but Jessie died before managing to travel, just six months after diagnosis.
Based in York, Jessie’s Fund works in children’s hospices and special schools across the UK.
Ms Schatzberger said: “In the last days of Jessie’s life, the hospice was absolutely wonderful in every way but felt we could help by getting children access to music as a way to communicate.
“It’s not about teaching them to play piano or flute, it’s about using instruments that are intuitive to play and sound good.”
The charity has worked in 34 children’s hospices, giving staff the confidence to use simple musical techniques as a way to communicate with children. It also trains staff in special schools.
“Most of all, it’s about participating in the music, not just listening and helping the children express themselves.” said Ms Schatzberger. “With hospices, there is a very clear legacy from our work, as before we set up, there were no music therapists in children’s hospice. Now we have newer hospices get in touch with us when they are at the building stage to plan their music rooms.
“The children can benefit in so many ways. We’ve had parents tell us how much calmer their child is, how they can sleep at night for the first time.”
Music therapy can teach teamwork skills and boost self esteem, but can also help physically, helping disabled children to use muscles they do not usually use, and helping with speech and language development.
“Music is a great motivator,” said Ms Schatzberger. “Whether it’s reaching out as far as they can to play a chime or beat a drum, or learning to take turns in a group. It’s just magic to see.”
The charity needs £250,000 a year to run, and like the other two nominees in this year’s group award, it received a grant from the St James’s Place Foundation, organisers of YCCA. It was awarded £2,500 for a project at Highbury School in Brighouse.
For the first time, members of the public can vote for their winner on the YCCA website. Voting will close during the awards ceremony, which is being held in Leeds on October 10.
The Yorkshire Post will be profiling the two other nominees, the deaf youth club at Prism Youth Project, Bradford, and Able2 Pontefract Special Olympics, in the coming weeks. For more information on Jessie’s Fund, visit www.jessiesfund.org.uk
The Yorkshire Post is the media partner for the Yorkshire Children of Courage Awards, which will be hosted by BBC Breakfast presenter Steph McGovern at the Royal Armouries in Leeds in October.
The awards, now in their fourth year, were set up by the St James’s Place Foundation to honour courageous youngsters while raising money to help disadvantaged and disabled young people.
Voting is now open in the group award on the Yorkshire Children of Courage website, where there is also information on how to nominate to a child for an award, and how to buy tickets for the event. Visit www.yorkshirechildren.co.uk