Like many I suspect, my first question about the small, Worcester-based charity ‘Snoezelen’ was ‘What does Snoezelen mean?’ The word – a mix of two dutch words for sniffing and dozing – perfectly evokes the experience offered by the charity: a multi-sensory environment for people with severe learning disabilities that can be explored through sight, hearing, smell or touch.
Worcester Snoezelen was established in 1993 and now welcomes over 400 clients a week from across four counties. As my guide showed me round the buildings (formerly a special school) every room you walk into is like entering another world that instantly stimulates the senses: star tunnels, white rooms, sensory gardens and a hydrotherapy pool (just for starters).
Equally central to the Snoezelen experience is music. There are currently two music rooms and two full time music co-coordinators offering a range of accessible activities including Gamelan and Soundbeam. They also offer outreach music workshops including one in 2010 which benefitted older people with additional needs. Significantly, the musical offer also extends to opportunities in formal music education.
In 2006 a Snoezelen student achieved a pass in a Leisure Play Music Exam. Offered by the London College of Music, Leisure Play exams are a performance-only alternative to graded exams (and not accredited). Since then, fourteen more disabled musicians have successfully taken Leisure Play exams and Snoezelen has become an LCM centre, attracting visits from non-disabled musicians.
Jane Roberts, currently project manager for Snoezelen and originally a Drake Music associate, describes one recent example: “Last year one of (our) music makers took an exam using audio visuals, Soundbeam and vibroacoustics. The student was a lady who was profoundly deaf and very high on the autistic spectrum – a real achievement indeed.”
Worcester Snoezelen is a success story not only in terms of providing access to music for SEN/Disabled people, but for also offering the choice of following a musical pathway through exams. The achievements of these Snoezelen musicians will hopefully act as an inspiration for both similar charities and music examination boards alike.