David, one of the young people at Foundation House, enjoying a session making music with our Disability Lead Lee

For four years now, we’ve been working with young disabled musicians at Foundation House, one of the supported living units of National Star College, the county’s flagship support centre that enables young disabled people in all aspects of living and learning.

In the beginning, we were working with just one young person, but have now grown to work with over half of the residents in the centre week-in-week out after receiving a boost to funding from St James’ Place.

Having the opportunity to work with the residents over a sustained period of time has allowed our music leader and disability lead Lee to carefully plan and develop personalised support for the complex and individual needs of those who attend.

Lee’s dedication is critical to the work. In describing the varying nature of the sessions he says “In any given week, I go from creating long pieces based around recording and looping vocals, to singing classic rock songs, to carefully crafting hip hop tracks – no two weeks are the same and it really keeps me on my toes as a music leader!”

The sessions grew out of work with David, a young man who loves music, but was only previously able to enjoy it passively.

Lee worked with David, his mum and the carers at Foundation House to modify equipment, allowing David to trigger sounds with a joystick and buttons so that he could begin to play along with Lee.  This interaction was the key to unlocking David’s potential, and, over a number of weeks, more and more technology was adapted to suit David’s needs and developing musicianship.

This led to significant improvements in David’s fine motor skills and coordination, helping him develop his speech and breathing through singing. Lee then worked together with a speech therapist to begin embedding a therapy approach into David’s musical play, using the sessions as a way of improving David’s wellbeing and heath.

“David has always loved music,” says Lizzi Ussher, David’s mum, “but Lee’s unique brand of music leading has enabled David to really blossom. He is able to strum the guitar, play the keyboard and he is much more vocal and communicative. He absolutely loves his sessions with Lee and stays engaged and alert all through the sessions with lots of laughter and a great rapport with Lee.”

Kerry Hactcher at Foundation House has noticed a step change in David’s communication skills. “David seems a lot more comfortable and socialises with others much more easily thanks to the help of the sessions with Lee. He’s much more responsive, visibly enjoying the music making and is always so smiley and relaxed following each session. Physically, David is opening his hands out more in order to play his keyboard and there seems to be more purpose to his movements when engaged in therapy and music activities.”

Whilst at Foundation House, other residents asked if they could begin to access music sessions and the programme was expanded to provide a range of tailor-made 1:1 sessions accessible to all of the young people at the centre.

Lee says, “These sessions are as varied as the residents themselves, ranging from interactive sensory experiences to recording and performing, with the choice of musical genres being just as eclectic. I’m sure I learn just as much from the residents at Foundation House as they do from me.”

Kerry has noticed lasting changes is other participants too:

“Dom is always very proud of the work he produces in his music sessions and is keen to play any recordings to his peers and staff members. This massively helps Dom’s speech and communication with others, often struggling to maintain focus and engagement but music therapy has supported the development of these skills. Ruben started sessions recently due to his love for music, especially hip hop and rap and he seems to really enjoy making up his own lyrics and again this massively helps with Ruben’s communication development.”

Find out more about our work with disabled children and young people: themusicworks.org.uk/videos/