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This is . . . Respite During a Pandemic – Havens Hospices uses Tech to Talk 

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Boy enjoying music therapy

Havens Hospices is using technology to helping them to continue caring during the Coronavirus. Providing ‘socially-distant’ palliative and supportive care during the pandemic hasn’t been easy, but is creating ‘creative opportunities’ to still provide a level of respite for patients and families who rely on its care.

Little Havens has a dedicated Music Therapist, Ruth Ellam, who usually runs group and individual sessions within the hospice. Since lockdown, Ruth has been running live sessions from her own home and recording themed videos for families who can use sensory props they may have around the house. “Music Therapy is not something that we had done online before lockdown, so it has been a steep learning curve,” says Ruth. “There are lots of ways in which doing Music Therapy ‘virtually’ is more challenging – it feels strange to have everyone on ‘mute’ when we are doing our group sessions.

“It is incredibly joyous to look at the screen and see everyone joining in with the singalongs  and our ‘Sensory and Music Story’ sessions.  I feel so privileged to be able to do this work from home, and to still interact and engage with our children and families through music. It feels even more important at the present time.”

Ruth has had support and training in Online Music Therapy from Jessie’s Fund, a charity that has pioneered the use of music therapy in children’s hospices across the UK.


Ruth playing her guitar

One child benefiting from these sessions is Jimmy Burch, who will turn three years old in July. He has a brain injury following a febrile convulsion at six months old, and has been visiting Little Havens for a year, taking part in the social and music therapies available.

Mum Claire, 35 from Shoeburyness, says, “Although Jimmy is registered blind, we have noticed that he is starting to track objects and different stimulus. Luckily, he has really good hearing so adores noisy toys, music and instruments. That’s why the Sensory Storytime sessions at Little Havens are great for us, so we’re glad we’ve been able to continue this online.”

Jimmy isn’t technically classed as ‘vulnerable’ but it would be serious if he caught the virus because a fever makes his seizures more severe. So the family is shielding at home.

“For me, the Online Music Therapy is a nice start to the day. It breaks up our routine and is something different to look forward to. I get the chance to socialise a little bit, interacting with people who are in the same position as us. Even just seeing everyone else on the screen makes me feel supported.

“Jimmy loves these sessions, playing with the musical instruments and the repetition of songs. When he recognises a tune, he chuckles and laughs. He’s very responsive to this type of therapy.

“Because each session is different, the story is published beforehand so we have the chance to get prepared and gather up the instruments and household items we need. Ruth will tell the story and sing songs, referring to the sensory items to use too.”

Music Therapy Online

The majority of patients who use Little Havens and The J’s fall into the ‘vulnerable’ category and advised by the government to self-isolate so all face-to-face respite within the home and hospice has been postponed. The J’s has been offering ‘virtual individual respite’ via video call app Zoom where they chat, bake cakes and read stories to help meet the social needs of its young people.

Denise Morley is a Healthcare Assistant and says, “The patients seem to recognise my face and voice straightaway as I’m usually greeted with a lovely smile. It is wonderful to see how our patients have engaged in the stories which I have read to them. This has been shown by their facial expressions and by their eye contact whilst looking at the pictures which go with the stories.”

This free care can only continue thanks to donations made by kind supporters. With all public fundraising events postponed or cancelled, the charity is relying on gifts – whatever the amount – to keep caring.

To find out more about Havens Hospices and how to support the hospice visit or the charity’s social media channels @HavensHospices. You can also donate to support children’s hospices across the UK by donating through our website – all donations we received during Children’s Hospice Week (22-28 June) will got to our National Fundraising Scheme, which we distribute to all 54 children’s hospices across the UK.

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  1. The children are blessed to have Ruth Ellam as a dedicated music therapist. The way the sensory songs, music and video make a change in the child's mindset is way beyond human understanding. Our dedicated music researchers at have been trying to perfect the right proportion of music mixing to make it more comforting to its listeners.

    9 July, 2020