I wouldn’t normally trouble you with my charity work – chiefly because I don’t ordinarily do any – but I have just become the first patron of a fund-raising organisation in Northampton that’s in the process of applying for charity status, and one of my pledges as patron is to spread the word. So here goes. Thomas’s Fund, named in memory of Thomas Smith who died almost three years ago from a neurodegenerative disease, aged 10, is all about providing music therapy for children in Northamptonshire with “life-limiting” conditions (a new and evocative new phrase I have learnt) or disabilities that prevent them from attending school for extended periods. The aim is to raise enough money to pay for a music therapist to make home visits, so as to provide stimulation, increase relaxation, assist with motor skills and sensory development, and to give these kids an outlet for emotion and self-expression. I was asked if I would become a patron and I said yes, straight away. Partly because it’s local, and I’m all for harnessing the power of the local community. It’s specifically Northamptonshire-based, and I’m keen to maintain links with the town that has been so good to me (both in terms of my upbringing, and in the success of Where Did It All Go Right?, which has turned into the gift that goes on giving, and I’ll be forever grateful for that). Also, it’s music therapy. You don’t have to be a scientist to see how important music can be. My third reason: they asked me. Nobody’s ever asked me to be a patron of a charity before, so thanks to Kate Tollan and Jan Hall, who got in touch, or else I wouldn’t be writing this.
Last night was the launch concert at the Spinney Hill Theatre, part of Northampton School for Girls, which I was asked to compere. When I arrived at 6pm, the foyer was awash with big-hearted volunteers in Thomas’s Fund t-shirts, laying out leaflets and forms and balloons. Lots of kids from special schools in the area were being minibused in. There were parents and carers everywhere. The concert was mostly performed by pupils from NSG of all ages, with a mass singalong at the beginning of Reach, which was Thomas’s favourite song (and is the favourite song of Harry, his younger brother, who was born with the same degenerative condition and is currenly benefiting from music therapy himself). Thomas and Harry’s mum, Lucy, said a few well-chosen words to explain the genesis of the fund – what an inspiration she is – and my job was chiefly to keep everybody happy while they re-set the stage between acts. At least I had a hand-held mic so that I could stalk the stage and occasionally walk up the aisles into the audience like Graham Norton. This is so unlike what I might normally be doing on a Monday evening – attending and hosting a school concert – it held a peculiar appeal for me. There is always a thrill to be had from addressing a crowd, especially with a mic, and you’d hardly call last night’s a tough audience! Parents and kids alike were there to be entertained, and the only heckle I got was from one of the kids:
While the stage was being set for Madrigalis, a close harmony singing group, I engaged the audience with my memories of Music & Movement at primary school, where we always seemed to have to pretend to be a tree. Thinking on my feet, I challenged anyone in the audience to come up onstage to be a tree – saying that if they did, I’d pledge a fiver for Thomas’s Fund, and put it in the bucket myself. A few hands shot up, so I said I’d save it until after the interval. I reminded them of my plan between the other acts, coming up with idea of forming a “charity orchard”. This seemed to get them going, so we ran with it. In the event, before part two, I had an entire stageful of kids and parents who all wanted to be trees. It was fantastic. I led them through the basic tree routine we always had to do (wave your branches as if in a breeze, then a high wind, then winter comes and you lose your leaves etc.), and much fun was had. I promised, in the circumstances, to empty my wallet of cash into a bucket in return for their help. A great, unplanned bonding moment from compere and audience. However, one little girl came up to me while I was onstage, and standing at my feet, asked the following question:
“Do you think you’re funny?”
“No,” I answered, quick as a flash.
“Good, because you’re not.”
“Thank you.” I replied.
“You’re really not,” she added.
Ah well. It was a fantastic evening. And during the Big Band’s final numbers, I found myself transfixed by one of the kids in wheelchairs in the front row. He was quite severely physically disabled, but between a carer and the woman I took to be his mother, he was really getting into it – one of them was clapping his hands, the other moving his wheelchair in time to Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag – this was music therapy in action, I thought. I caught the boy’s eye and he gave me such a big smile. I feel quite warm inside just remembering it. Sorry if this all sounds a bit meaningful, but I couldn’t help compare the girl who’d cheekily insulted the compare, with this other boy. Maybe if he could have, he’d have insulted me too!
There’s no website for Thomas’s Fund yet, and I don’t really expect anyone to be moved to send a cheque off forthwith (it is, as I say, very much a local Northamptonshire charity), but for the record, the email contact is email@example.com and there’s more about music therapy here. Thanks for reading.
PS: The Northampton Chronicle & Echo ran a story about the Fund and the concert on Friday. This is the picture they took: