On Friday 3rd March we went back to visit the team at Waterways Children’s Centre in Thamesmead, South East London. It was such a delight to observe the practitioners running the Interactive Music-Making (IMM) Groups with such enthusiasm and ownership. Having been a little unsure about how much we could achieve in the 6 visits we made to the centre we were delighted at how the practitioners had continued to run the sessions and had really made them their own, creating their own songs and how they were now so much more comfortable singing and improvising musical games with the children. We could see the value of the work in the changes in the children: so much more confident and interactive.

Unlike the other therapists piloting the projects in the UK we didn’t have the experience of delivering a skill-sharing project before, so when we teamed up with Music as Therapy International to deliver the first Interactive Music-Making skill-sharing pilot project we were very excited! The reasons to deliver such a project in this area were clear: the number of referrals in to the Oxleas Foundation Trust Music Therapy service for children under 5 is huge and there were clearly more young children in the area that could benefit who would not yet meet the criteria for our service. By reaching more children at an early stage of their development we could prevent difficulties becoming entrenched and more complex.

We had good links with local Children’s Centres who were used to referring children to our main service and we knew that we could enhance their skills, within the settings the children were already attending. Thamesmead is an area of high urban deprivation and need, and we see many referrals come in to the service after children have started school and their difficulties come to the fore. We wanted to enable the practitioners to broaden their skills to identify and support children who were presenting with social communication difficulties, had unsettled home lives or simply needed a bit of a confidence boost.

Whilst we both had extensive experience of working with children of this age in a Music Therapy context we didn’t have the knowledge of how to run a skill-sharing project, and this is where Music as Therapy International were invaluable to the successful running of this project. Right from the start Alexia and Hannah were supportive and informative. We met with Alexia and Hannah for two planning meetings to talk through the shape of the project and to set up some support telephone calls for us to check-in after each session. Feeling excited and full of anticipation we set off to meet the practitioners and children we would be working with.

The initial visit to Waterways was very insightful for us (and the practitioners who weren’t fully aware of what the training would entail!) We spent the first week meeting them all and observing the children in the two settings we would be working in. Over the next week, Hannah helped us to iron out some of the initial communication difficulties for example how many practitioners we would be working with and timings of the groups and how to release the practitioners for a de-brief after the groups.

Each week that followed we rolled up to Waterways with our collection of instruments and ran two groups. There were 8 children in each group with the pair of practitioners who already worked with those children (so overall four practitioners joined us in the project). Some staff members were more confident about using music and singing with the children and others felt quite self-conscious. However, all were really up to give it a go and after a couple of weeks mostly observing they were keen to start leading the groups themselves. The biggest motivator for the practitioners was seeing how the children enjoyed the sessions, how keen they were to come back the following week and how their confidence, use of their voices and social interaction not only developed in the music groups but carried over in to the nursery setting.

The nursery is a busy place with many demands on staff and we were hopeful but realistic that the music groups might get lost when we left and the practitioners had to take responsibility for setting up the sessions themselves, negotiating the time and space to run the groups. So we were so thrilled when we went back in March to see everything up and running and, as well as the changes in the children, we were aware of how much the practitioners themselves had developed their confidence and really taken ownership of their new skills and abilities to use music to enhance the children’s development and well-being. The Children’s Centre had invested their own money in buying the instruments they needed and they were keen for further input and we are planning to do another visit to help maintain the momentum and offer some new ideas and support.

Laura and Oonagh