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Sobell House: 40 Years Of Care

Sobell House offers physical, psychological, social and spiritual care to those facing life threatening illness, death and bereavement.

"Music is natural. Part of how a mother and a baby will connect is a musical dialogue, and babies respond to music almost immediately – we use comparatively complex things like lullabies and nursery rhymes, but we have this inherent musicality that allows us to understand."

Since 1976, Sobell House has provided personal, friendly and indispensable hospice care for the people of Oxfordshire. Caring for 150 people every day, it’s hard to think of a single organisation that has helped more people in such a positive way.

As a member of the ‘40 Club’ of businesses that are committed to raising £10,000 over four years for the hospice, it’s a pleasure for us at OX Magazine to share some of the amazing stories that come from Sobell House’s incomparable work over the last four decades.

“I think what makes us different is that we’re incredibly immersed in the local community,” says Tim Wraith, Sobell’s corporate partnerships manager. “Our unique selling point is that we’re slap bang in the middle of Oxfordshire, both in location and in spirit. There are hundreds and hundreds of charities out there doing incredible things, but we meet people at dreadfully difficult times of their lives, and when we've supported someone in a very caring way, their family don't forget it.

It’s not just the individual patient that Sobell House works for – often, whole families are affected and changed for the better following the support of Sobell’s staff. Tim continues: “I can think of one of our supporters, Caroline. She does some work for us, and her husband died here five years ago. She says her children would not be like they are today if it wasn't for the care that her family had at Sobell. We don't just provide care for the person who is ill; we basically pick up their whole family and help them along.




Far from the typical idea of what a hospice does, Sobell House employ a wealthof different carers, therapists and support staff to help with every aspect of an individual’s life. “We provide pastoral care and bereavement support, we employ social workers, we have music therapists, art therapists, we have a suite where a whole family can stay,” Tim proudly tells me.

Sobell’s head of fundraising Dominique Cadiou explains how important the work from their ever-growing team of volunteers is, as well as less formal contributions from the wider community:

“We have lots of volunteers who are involved, and we are growing more and more to involve different aspects of the community – we can't deal with everything, so the more we can get neighbours, carers and friends involved with what we do, the better. The simplest of things can make a world of difference. We have a big education role as well – we do a lot of training of doctors and nurses. They come here to learn about palliative care and end-of-life care.”

One of the members of staff that has immeasurably improved the lives of patients and their families at Sobell House is Tom Crook. Tom is Sobell’s resident music therapist, and changes lives on a daily basis with his unique form of therapy. I spoke to Tom to find out more:

Hi Tom, thanks for speaking to us. How has your role within the community changed over the last 40 years?

Well, when Sobell House started, there wouldn't have been many hospices at all. The first modern hospice, St Christopher's in London, opened in 1967, and Sobell House opened nine years later. Dame Cicely Saunders, founder of St Christopher’s, provided our ethos: "You matter because you are you, and you matter to the end of your life."

What is music therapy?

It comes from the idea that we're all musical creatures – we're all born with a heartbeat, a pulse, we all make noises with volume, tone, pitch and timbre, and we move with rhythm. These are all musical elements, if you like. Music is natural. Part of how a mother and a baby will connect is a musical dialogue, and babies respond to music almost immediately – we use comparatively complex things like lullabies and nursery rhymes, but we have this inherent musicality that allows us to understand. Then, if you look at the end of a human life, people with Alzheimer's and dementia will often hold onto their musical memories far longer than others. Perhaps a patient of ours won't remember what they had for breakfast, or the names of their children, but they will recognise a melody from six decades ago.

So how does music actually affect the brain?

It affects every part of the brain. There's no musical lobe, as it were. If you scan a brain whilst someone's listening to music, every part is active. You have one area for sight, one for reading, one for each sense, mostly, but music affects the whole lot. A good example is in people who have had strokes: they may need to essentially retrain one half of their brain to relearn language, and that can be accessed through music. A speech therapist in a case like that might often use song. In palliative care at Sobell House, it can be completely overwhelming to hear words like 'cancer', 'tumour', or even 'hospice'. It's often hard to find the words to describe how people are dealing with that emotionally, so I'm essentially part of a team that help's with a patient's emotional welfare, rather than the medical aspect. We have doctors and nurses, of course, but the hospice also have a holistic approach of looking at the whole person, rather than just the illness.

I suppose, in palliative care, that your patients are often undergoing so much physical treatment that their mental health could otherwise be forgotten about.

Absolutely. We have a range of other therapies here as well, including an art therapist, and hopefully we help in that way.

So where does your background originate? On the music side, or the therapy side?

Music. I was a musician, working in studios and on tours and so on, then retrained as a music therapist. I have a master's degree level education, and actually first came to Sobell House on placement whilst I was training. When the job became available, I applied, and I think it did help that I had had that initial contact here. I was quite overwhelmed by the idea of working permanently in a hospice, but I very quickly realised that it's a lovely place and a very nice place to work.

I visited Sobell House for the first time a couple of weeks ago and was really taken aback by how warm and inviting the place is.

It's not what you expect a hospice to be.

So how do some of your patients actually use music?

Some of them simply improvise on drums or pianos, whereas others will listen to music and reflect on the memories that those pieces of music evoke. Others will also write songs. Some of the words that they might not have been able to express to loved ones, they often find they can express in the safety of a song. That then becomes something of a legacy, as well. People take CDs home from here every day – I often hear that they then get played at their funerals.


It's quite a huge thing to happen. Everyone has a story, and this is often an opportunity to tie up those stories and talk about them with someone who is listening in a non-judgemental way.

Thanks so much Tom.