Oaklands Respite Centre is a drop-in service for children with complex needs and profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD), near Newport, Wales. Advisory Panel member Liz Coombes had already run a number of music therapy sessions with them when she delivered this on-site skill-sharing project in May 2016.

Oaklands’ young people and staff had loved the music therapy sessions, but the centre could not afford continuous sessions. Caregiver Penny had even brought her guitar in since, but she and her manager felt that skill-sharing with Liz would give her the skills to better structure her music sessions. The staff agreed they wanted to use the music training to find new ways for their young people to engage with them. 

Right away, Liz could see that the staff were enthusiastic and prepared for their sessions, and keen to benefit the children with music. Support from their manager, Chris, gave them the space and encouragement that was needed. Training took place every two weeks, between which Liz sent the staff activities and encouraged them to practice what they’d learned. The music sessions began to provide something focused and specific for the children to be involved in even, with limited mobility.

The children we support have very limited communication and can be difficult to ‘reach’ so to hear that they are engaging, reacting and getting involved in the sessions is excellent news.

Chris Hooper, Service manager

As the project developed, it became clear that it was empowering staff too. The targeted musical methods they were learning meant they could see the choice and agency they were giving their young people. Though at the beginning of sessions staff had been a little prescriptive – choosing instruments for the children, or leading their hands to play them – by the final weeks their approach was totally changed. This shone through in the children: they began to express themselves creatively, through their own unique sound and music. Some of the children even began to show clear preferences for certain instruments. This opened up group discussions about how important choice is to empower children who are non-verbal. 

“[the children] gained confidence playing their part and instruments along to the stories… they knew when it was  their turn and looked very proud when they delivered their music part.

Jayne, caregiver

By the end of the six-week training, Penny and Jayne had the skills to provide musical opportunities to the 31 children who accessed Oaklands’ service. Chris, their manager, told us how proud he was of them – and of what he could say the centre offered all children in his meetings with parents. 

Penny and Jayne’s confidence I believe has grown since starting the training … once they saw how much the children enjoyed the sessions and with Liz’s support and structure those worries and insecurities fell away.

Chris Hooper, Service manager