Mark Withers has been working with Jessie’s Fund since our very beginnings, having been a colleague of Jessie’s parents even before that. We asked him a few questions about his work.
As a musician, how did you come to specialise in working with children with SEND?
When I was a student one of my placements was in Runcorn working with people with disabilities and I loved it. I thought that the work allowed me to be a musician in a very exciting way. As a teenager I had also done volunteer work in London, with a service providing respite care at weekends for families with children with disabilities, and I had found the work really interesting. I wanted to pursue this interest in conjunction with my life as a musician.
What do you find most inspiring about this work?
It’s the potential. When you do concerts you make a little difference to a lot of people. In this work you can potentially make a lot of difference. The relationship is so intimate and it can make a lot of difference to the people you are working with, but also to you as a musician. The impact is most definitely both ways.
What do you find most challenging?
Quite often the feedback from the child, whilst you are actually working, isn’t obvious and sometimes you don’t know what effect you are actually having. This all depends on the needs of the child you are working with but means that you have to go on instinct, and I am sure that sometimes we get it spot on, and sometimes we are wide of the mark.
How do you think music can help the general learning process for children in special schools?
It helps in how the brain works, how we process information, in communication, in social skills, in self confidence, in collaboration in groups, it helps in so many different ways. I’ve seen passive children explode into a wonderful energy through doing music. I’ve seen children with no self esteem suddenly puff their chests out with pride with what they are doing. I’ve seen children who can’t count learn to count through singing songs. I think the range is really enormous, and something I want to continue to develop in my work is maximising that range of opportunities.
What advice would you have for a musician who would like to do this sort of work?
The main advice is to do it. Create opportunities, gain experience, gain feeling. You’ll need some guidance, but most of all you need to find your way of doing it and get going. Don’t wait for it to happen. I think that there are huge, huge gains to be had where the children you are working with are doing music, not having it done to them, and it’s finding ways to do that.