Return to Northwick Park
Musicians: Ben Hazleton (double bass) Marcus Bonfanti (guitar)
In July of this year, The Spitz visited Northwick Park Hospital in Harrow after being contacted by Matron for Older People and Dementia Services, Alex Lukjaniec. After the success of our debut visit, Alex invited us back to perform on World Alzheimer's Day, 21st September.
After meeting Alex for a pre-show coffee, we headed up to Fletcher Ward, which consists of 4 bays, each with 6 beds. In contrast to our work at Bridgeside Lodge, the occupants of these rooms are much more temporary, staying, on average, for around 2 weeks. This meant that there were no familiar faces among the patients but several among the staff.
"No way, you're back!? Good to see you again!"
As Marcus and Ben struck the first chord of the afternoon, staff poked their heads in to see what was going on. Live music is not a regular occurrence and phones were immediately out and documenting the occasion.
A patient in bed covered her head with her bed sheet, perhaps a bit taken aback by the sudden musical departure from the quiet of moments before. Gradually, as the duo played on, the sheet came down bit by bit and a warm smile began to peep out. This is a reaction we're used to seeing. An initial reluctance to engage or participate fades away to be replaced by smiles and singing and applause for the musicians. Sometimes this can take minutes, other times, as in the case of some residents of Bridgeside Lodge, it can takes months. The important thing is to not force it. We must respect the recipient's own agency, to allow them to set the pace, while always keeping the door open for engagement when the time is right.
When our lead dancer, an occupational therapist, asked patient J if he would like some music, he replied "no thanks, I just want to go back to bed." Within minutes he was singing and tapping his hands on his side table with a big smile on his face.
We met a patient who temporarily abandoned her lunch in favour of grabbing her walking frame so she could get up and dance.
"Life is short" she said, "but we can make it sweet"
Ben & Marcus finished their song and received their applause graciously (one of very very many that afternoon!) As the applause died away, a small voice could be heard. We all looked around for the source and saw that a patient in the far corner of the room was singing. It was a different song, Patsy Cline's 'Have You Ever Been Lonely?'. One could see Marcus and Ben tentatively working out what key she was singing in, and soon they were playing along with her. Transformed suddenly to the role of accompanists, rather than the main attraction. Back to The Spitz ethos of collaboration, rather than purely performers and audience.
We agreed that it is truly a privilege to play for NHS workers. Everyone from the porters, orderlies, cleaners, OTs, nurses and consultants, As they sat working at their desks, or helped patients to eat their lunch, feet were tapping and it was smiles all round. We heard one nurse say "it's nice for the patients" to which Thom (Spitz GM) replied (perhaps a little too insistently!) "it's for you guys as well!"
We were all in complete agreement with Alex when she said:
"If only I could bottle this feeling."
We visited two wards and estimate that between patients, staff and visitors (including a woman who was visiting her husband and ended up having an impromptu boogie with staff!) we reached over 100 people in our two hour visit. A fantastic result, but one which only begins to scratch the surface of even this one hospital. We are minded of the extent of need across the country and the potential for expansion of The Spitz. There's lots of work still to do...