Borletti-Buitoni Trust
19 June 2020

#BBTathomeforawhile –
Adpating to the ‘New Normal’

by Richard James, Music as Therapy International

What strange and uncertain times we are living in. The past few months have challenged the accepted way of doing things in unprecedented ways, both professionally and personally for millions of us. The widespread effect of coronavirus is inevitably something we have not been spared.

The most immediate change for our team was the rapid adjustment to everyone remote working from home in order to reduce any risk to us and those we live with. Thankfully, it’s been a largely smooth transition thanks to a range of free digital tech solutions which has made collaborative working not only possible, but relatively easy. Regular video calls, online chats, sharing of home-made music quizzes (and even an over-the-wall garden meeting or two) have enabled us to maintain our team togetherness throughout the past few months.

MTI’s Director, Alexia having an over-the-wall garden meeting with Team Assistant, Makeda, spring 2020

As an organisation our work to make music an integral part of care is built around genuine partnerships with caregivers working on the front lines of the sector, often with some of the most vulnerable people in society. So, with many care settings hit particularly hard by coronavirus, there have been inevitable moments when our powerlessness to respond in recent weeks has been disheartening. Yet we’re fortunate to be able to fall back on a history of working in countries as diverse as Romania and Rwanda, which has taught us the importance of being patient, to prioritise listening to our partners and to respond to their needs appropriately.

As such, these past few months have been spent monitoring the situation in the nine countries where we have a presence (each with its own specific risks and coronavirus narratives) and in regular contact with our partners around the world. In doing so, it has been incredibly heartening to hear stories that differ greatly from the doom-and-gloom reports so frequently dominating the headlines of late. Amidst all the hardship, we’ve been overwhelmed by our partners’ unwavering belief in music and their ability to adapt in the face of new challenges.

With care homes on lockdown, many adult residential centres disbanded, and schools and nurseries welcoming back different groups of transitional or vulnerable children, for many, music and singing remains the one activity everybody can still take part in. Singing alone or in groups means connections can be forged, emotions shared, and all the life-enhancing benefits of music experienced while remaining at the recommended safe two-metre distance.

Due to the risk of transmission, making music without the use of shared instruments is the ‘new normal’ for many of our partners – for now, at least. For others, new musical instruments are exactly what is needed right now – especially in the early years, where young children still need play and stimulation (and social distancing is less of an expectation). To support their respective needs, we’ve speedily developed and shared COVID-19 activity booklets full of ideas and inspiration, while expanding our Music Instrument Fund enabling partners to grow their instrument collections.

“Additional musical instruments will make such an impact for us. We are requesting instruments so we can provide these vital services across all of our Children’s Centres… And lastly, but very importantly, having more instruments will also decrease the risk of cross-contamination with Coronavirus, at a time we especially need to ensure we are keeping children and families safe and healthy.” Kheeima (pictured left)

Much like adapting to home-working, this is all very much a process of learning on-the-fly. We’re ultimately aware that many of our Partners have been, and may still be, in crisis mode, where communicating with us may not be at the top of their priority list. Yet, the stories and messages we have been receiving serve as a continual reminder of two things to us: First, that it’s only through patience and listening to our partners that we’ll be able to provide the support they really need as they negotiate life and care in the context of COVID-19. And second, that the power of music remains, no matter how challenging the circumstances.

Music as Therapy International was one of the first five recipients of  BBT Communities grant in 2019.  See here for details