The Spitz at St Pancras Hospital
Musicians: Nat Keen & Barney Keen (both guitar & vocals)
The Spitz expansion continued on Thursday as we visited St Pancras Hospital in the London Borough of Camden. Musician Nat Keen recently introduced us to a friend, Alex Blackwell, an occupational therapist working on Montague Ward at St Pancras Hospital.
Montague Ward is a mental health rehabilitation ward for adults detained under the Mental Health Act and provides short-term rehabilitation, assessment and treatment for people with a wide range of mental health conditions.
After funding for external activity practitioners was cut, patients' consumption of music tends to be a weekly "requests" session in which staff use streaming services to play music on the communal stereo. We saw this as another opportunity for The Spitz to showcase the power of live music for wellbeing, after our visit to Northwick Park Hospital the previous week.
As we arrived, Alex was firing up the barbecue. He explained that one of the symptoms of the mental health conditions they deal with is an apathy and a lack of enthusiasm to participate in planned activities. Sweetening the deal with food tends to work, however. A catered gig then, rather than a BBQ underscored with live music. Patients were sat in the communal lounge with the TV on, the atmosphere was subdued but brightening when people realised there was to be live music.
Brothers Nat and Barney Keen played a mix of pop and jazz, South American songs (in both Spanish and Portuguese), as well as old English folk numbers, many of which had travelled across the Atlantic and made their way into the American musical canon. We met staff and patients of Montague Ward, learning about their favourite artists and genres of music. Thom [Rowlands, Spitz General Manager] spoke with a patient who said she had learned guitar as a child and regretted not continuing. "It's never too late!" he told her.
The star of the show was patient T, who has acute ADHD*. Alex was surprised to see her sitting calmly listening, singing along to the music. During the break, she made sure the musicians had enough to eat and drink, and gave them a drawing she had done that morning. It was clear that she wanted to make Nat & Barney feel welcome and looked after. Giving as well as receiving. She thanked them for visiting "you're so talented, thank you, thank you."
Towards the end of the session, Barney asked if anyone had any requests and T immediately began singing Whitney Houston's I Wanna Dance With Somebody. Nat and Barney quickly picked up the chords and soon the whole courtyard was singing along as T danced in the middle. As her rendition ended, she hugged each member of staff. During our sessions, we sometimes have what we call a "this is why we do it" moment. T's spontaneous singing, followed by hugs for her carers, Nat and Barney's ability to pick up the song and their sensitivity in allowing her to lead the group was certainly one such moment.
We were struck by the difference in atmosphere between our arrival and our departure. We arrived to a polite but subdued welcome, and were sent on our way to applause and many "come back soon!"s. Alex was impressed by the impact the session had on the patients and is hoping to secure budget approval for a monthly visit from The Spitz.
Montague Ward is divided into female only, male only and mixed-sex. Many of the patients have been through the justice system and struggled, for myriad reasons, to re-enter society. Several of the male residents have histories of violence against women and as such need to be kept apart. This meant that not all patients were able to attend our session, but staff kindly went around opening windows on the first floor so the music could at least be heard by all.
We felt that this must be an incredibly difficult environment in which to work, with tricky balances having to be struck every day. The impact of one session from The Spitz was profound, and we hope that in future this could go deeper and reach patients living with more acute problems.
*Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a condition that affects people's behaviour. People with ADHD can seem restless, may have trouble concentrating and may act on impulse.