A hospital school is giving child patients a free violin to boost mental health

18 March 2021, 15:17 | Updated: 19 March 2021, 11:33

Young patient Kadina, 16, can’t wait to play the violin
Young patient Kadina, 16, can’t wait to play the violin. Picture: CCHS

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

Once the violin is donated by the charity, it automatically becomes property of the pupil. So they’ll have music for life.

Music is being put at the heart of an NHS hospital school, in an effort to improve its youngest and most vulnerable patients’ mental health and wellbeing.

Patients aged 4 to 18 are being given free musical instruments and tuition through the pioneering Andrew Lloyd Webber programme which has already seen transformative results in community schools.

Organisers at the Music in Secondary Schools Trust (MiSST), the charity behind the programme, are hoping to roll out the 12-month mental health and wellness pilot scheme to other hospital schools in England, if successful.

One pupil at Chelsea Community Hospital School, which ensures children with medical conditions have access to education, was overjoyed to see a delivery of string instruments at the front gate. “I am really excited to learn the violin. I hope I don’t break it!,” said 16-year-old Kadina (pictured above).

Janette Steel OBE, headteacher at the hospital school, added: “Receiving the violins was so very exciting – they are beautiful. It felt like the Christmas we missed – and more.

Read more: A school transformed itself by giving every student a violin >

“There was so much pleasure in their faces as most had never held or even seen a violin before. Others had been in an orchestra and had sadly left that dream behind when they came into hospital. So, this is a second opportunity to follow their dream of playing again,” Steel added.

One such pupil is Rosslyn, who attends CCHS. “Rosslyn played the violin prior to being admitted to the ward,” Steel said. “She was progressing well but upon being admitted to CCHS, had her instrument taken back by her old school, as it was not her property.

“As soon as the violins arrived, Rosslyn began tuning a violin and spent time with another pupil who had never held nor touched a violin before. What a wonderful day.”

MiSST, a classical music education charity of which Lloyd Webber is a patron, started their initiative by bringing free classical music tuition and instruments to challenging and disadvantaged secondary schools in some of the UK’s most deprived areas including Warwickshire and Oldham, and London.

In October 2020 an East London school reported its best-ever results and a new Ofsted rating of ‘outstanding’ after five years of running the programme, which the charity hopes could combat the ongoing lack of state school funding for music education.

Several high-profile musicians, including cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason and violinist Nicola Benedetti, have been vocal about the need to improve music provision for state school pupils.

Read more: Kadiatu Kanneh-Mason: ‘Black boys in state schools are not expected to pick up an instrument’ >

With the 12-month hospital school project, the organisers hope to give sick children the support they desperately need, as they navigate personal and emotional challenges brought on during the pandemic.

Rachel Landon, CEO of the charity, which raised funds for the scheme through an annual concert, said there is a “ticking time bomb of stress” with the pandemic.

“We know first-hand the benefits young people from disadvantaged backgrounds can gain from learning music,” she added.

“We saw a real need in hospital schools and wanted to help support this vital service, ensuring that children and young people have their rights to education preserved while in hospital”.

And the best part? Every instrument donated by MiSST becomes the property of the pupil who plays it, and so will never be taken away.

Lala Arslan, a learning mentor at CCHS, is planning to learn the violin alongside her pupils. “You’re never too old to learn or take on a new challenge; returning to a position of not knowing and being new to something is one of the most exciting and fruitful positions we can put ourselves in, being curious to learn,” she said.