Communicating through music
Jessie’s Fund helps children with additional and complex needs or serious illness to communicate by using music, when other methods may not be available to them. Music can provide a powerful and profound way in which children can express themselves and connect with the world around them.
Jessie’s Fund is a registered charity working all over the UK. Their recent ventures have brought them to the North West of England. Here, we talk exclusively to Executive Director, Rebecca Ellis, about how this worthwhile cause came to fruition and how it truly is making people’s lives better…
What does Jessie’s Fund do?
We fund music therapy positions in children’s hospices and hospital wards and provide them with instruments to use.
We also offer training courses for staff working in health, education and social care to help them become more confident in using music to help children communicate.
Our highly trained musicians run projects in specialist school settings and upskill staff to use music throughout the school day.
There are also individual financial grants available for those who otherwise wouldn’t be able to access music therapy.
How did Jessie’s Fund get started?
In 1994, Jessica May George, a bright and musical girl, was suddenly diagnosed with a rare and inoperable brain tumour.
Jessie’s Fund was established with the aim of meeting the cost of her planned treatment in the USA. Jessie herself named the fund, but she tragically passed away just five months after her diagnosis, before she could travel to the States. Following her passing, her parents, professional musicians Lesley and Alan, decided to use the fund to help other children communicate through music.
When Jessie accessed hospice care, there was no music therapy in any of the eight children’s hospices operating in the UK. Since 1995, Jessie’s Fund has helped 54 children’s hospices by providing musical instruments and establishing music therapy positions in 44 of them.
What is your role at Jessie’s fund and what is it about their mission that most resonates with you?
I am very lucky to be the Executive Director at Jessie’s Fund. We are only a small team so it is a varied role, including visiting projects and fundraising.
I am a musician, and also a teacher who has worked in a range of specialist settings. I have seen how powerful it can be to use music with children with a range of needs, often bringing out responses in a way that nothing else can, and how many staff in these settings say: “I’m not a musician” or “I can’t sing”.
I am passionate about our mission to empower all staff to feel confident to use music with the children they support, to give them as many opportunities to express themselves and have as much fun as possible!
What work are you currently doing in the North West of England?
We have just finished our first year of a partnership with the Royal Northern College of Music.
We offer the opportunity for eight students per year to receive training from Jessie’s Fund and then shadow our musicians on school projects throughout Manchester. This initiative helps support new musicians entering the sector, while also allowing us to build new relationships with schools in the area and assist more children and young people.
One of the students said:
“Spending five days shadowing Tom and Hannah at Springside School has been a fantastic experience. I feel as though I have seen the powerful effect of music in engaging and developing the children involved, as well as having interactions that leave both us, as the musician, and the children and staff taking part fulfilled and rewarded.
“It has been a great experience and one of which has left me inspired to delve further into this realm of work.”
We are looking forward to running the project again this year and returning to schools in the area.
We also did a fantastic songwriting project for Eurovision. Students with autism from three schools in Merseyside came together at the Shakespeare North Playhouse in Prescot to share the songs they wrote together with our musicians. My favourite was all about eating your vegetables!
We are currently expanding our work in children’s hospitals, with creative music projects in Leeds, and hopefully in Bradford too.
What is the impact that Jessie’s fund had on the children it supports?
We recently helped a young girl with autism through an individual music therapy grant. Her music therapist recently wrote to us to say:
“Thank you to Jessie’s fund for funding music therapy sessions for Jade. She has shown so much progress over the last six months, going from a non-verbal child to singing words and now speaking them. Music has been such a lifeline to her in terms of expressing herself and making meaningful connections with her mother who participates with her in the sessions.
“We hope that these sessions will have a lasting impact as music therapy will now be funded through her school and her parents now have the skills to continue using music at home to support her communication and social relationships.”
What three words have the children, or their parents, used to describe the music therapy they have received?
This is an interesting one as a parent recently told us: “It is hard to put into words the impact that music therapy is having!”
But some that other parents have shared are: “Essential”, “transformational” and “a lifeline”.
For more information on the grants that Jessie’s Fund offers, or how to donate or fundraise, visit their website here.