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  • Kat Whitehead

The Spitz at Great Ormond Street

Updated: Sep 20

Musician: Marcus Bonfanti (guitar, vocals)

On Wednesday 13th September we visited Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) for what we hopes marks the start of a long-term relationship with what is considered to be one of the finest children's hospitals in the world.

Musician Marcus Bonfanti joined Spitz team member Kat Whitehead for our inaugural session on the wards. Each ward at GOSH has one or two Play Specialists - whose roles are literally to oversee ‘Play’. The Play Team managed our schedule on the day, and escorted us from ward to ward. As you can imagine the hospital is huge and a bit of a maze so we were very grateful to have been so well looked after.

The mood within the hospital is incredible, it's such a calm and positive atmosphere, not what we expected. The Play Team and nurses that we met were kind, fun and made the whole place feel very relaxed - a good fit for The Spitz.

We found the kids responded in so many different ways. Marcus had to think on his feet as the children (understandably) requested songs from their world, the world of Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran rather than that of Carole King and John Lennon.

"It was a great exercise for me, I was totally out of my

comfort zone, desperately thinking back to when me

and [my daughter] Isabella used to work out her favourite

pop tunes on the piano and guitar and sing them together."

There were several memorable moments - we met a girl on Safari Ward who talked about her favourite musicals and then she told Marcus that Taylor Swift was her favourite singer. We joked about Marcus performing a Taylor track and how it might sound. The look on her face when Marcus launched into "Shake It Off" was incredible. We don't think she'd ever seen someone just learn a song on the spot before. Before long the whole room was singing along in moral support of Marcus’s version - prompting the Play Specialist to tell one of her colleagues to come and listen to Marcus as ‘He’s actually proper good!’.

On the same ward we met a baby of maybe 8 months, his mother said jokingly, "he likes “Baby Shark” but I don’t suppose you can play that one...'. Marcus started to play it and everyone joined in. The baby’s reaction was pure joy. Once he'd realised which song it was he looked so surprised and then started clapping uncontrollably. It was very moving.

We usually encourage our readers to look up unfamiliar songs / music mentioned in these blogs, but we'll suspend this recommendation if you've never heard Baby Shark before. You have been warned...

On Squirrel Ward we met a girl we were told was non-verbal but loved being sung to. She seemed upset and was very restless, so we were extra careful to check if she’d like us to come in, but her mother and the nurse were keen for us to do so. As we walked in they were playing some loud, rather dissonant music on her iPad which was turned off as we entered. Marcus asked if he should play something calming, but the mum asked for something lively, and told him that her daughter loved "Old MacDonald Had A Farm", which Marcus played in his own bluesy style. The girl immediately seemed to relax, it was incredible to witness.

From there Marcus was able to tell her about his favourite nursery rhyme “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly”, which he played and then transitioned into some more lullaby-type jazz tunes. The girl sank into her mother's arms and started closing her eyes. We could visibly see the impact the music was having on her. Marcus played four or five songs in all and then we left them, lying together in peace, almost asleep.

Lastly we headed to Kingfisher Ward. The set up here was different, a bigger ward altogether. Rather than going room to room as we had on the other wards, the Play Specialist suggested we base ourselves in the waiting area. As soon as Marcus started to play, heads started popping out of bays, and then very quickly patients and their parents came and sat to enjoy the music. This part felt more like a conventional gig, with ten or so patients and their families all congregated. Marcus played some of his classics including “Don’t Worry Be Happy”, “Country Roads”, and “Three Little Birds”, along with “Yellow Submarine”, which were all very well received. The mum of an 11 year old thanked us very much and said the music was "Such a good break from the routine of everything here".

We were really pleased with how our first session went, especially in the instances where we could really see the impact the music had on a patient’s mood in the moment. We're hoping for more of the same during our next visit in two weeks time. Afterwards, Marcus summed up his experience of the day:

"For what its worth, I think what we did yesterday and can potentially do at

Great Ormond Street ties in so well with what I feel The Spitz is all about.

The whole ethos of the charity. I think we can do some really important stuff there."

The connection with GOSH was quite a process from initial contact to tour first session on Wednesday. At an initial meeting with Head of Volunteer Services, Jamie Wilcox back in May, we discussed our work at Bridgeside Lodge and (perhaps more relevantly) our work at Northwick Park, Ealing and St Pancras Hospitals and spoke about what we could offer. Over the next few weeks we got the ball rolling on the necessary training and safeguarding that one would expect when proposing to work so closely with very young and often very poorly children.

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