Volunteers use the healing power of music healing power with music

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DOCTORS, surgeons and nurses spend every day battling to save patients’ lives at the Conquest Hospital.

For those having to undergo an operation and face a stint in hospital in order to recover it can be stressful at the best of times.

Mick Brooks and Chris Hutchinson at the Conquest Radio Studio, Hastings

Mick Brooks and Chris Hutchinson at the Conquest Radio Studio, Hastings

But there is an army of volunteers at the hospital on The Ridge who provide an equally important service for patients.

Hospital Radio Hastings runs 24 hours a day, offering tunes for all tastes, while at the same time helping patients on the road to recovery through the healing power of music.

It started in the early 1970s in a broom cupboard when four enthusiasts recorded programmes at home and then broadcast them using a tape player that was installed in a cupboard at the Royal East Sussex Hospital. At about the same time a similar operation began at St Helen’s Hospital.

In 1976 the two groups merged and established a studio at St Helen’s, and the Hastings and Rother Hospital Broadcasting Service was born. Soon landlines were in use taking the station to the Bexhill, Buchanan, Royal East Sussex, and Eversfield Hospitals.

In 1992 came the move to the Conquest Hospital and a new modern studio, from where it now broadcasts 24 hours a day using a computer system when the studio is unmanned.

Wendy Butler, chairman of Hospital Radio, said: “We have a very modern studio that we keep up to date with developments in technology. We now also transmit over the Hospedia media system as well as through the original audio lines.

“We are a registered charity run entirely by volunteers and we raise all our own funds through fundraising and sponsorship. Fundraising takes a variety of forms, the most successful of which are raffles held in the Conquest foyer. We also participate in the Hastings Carnival playing music every year on our float which is kindly loaned by French’s Haulage of Hastings.

“We currently have a team of enthusiastic people who use modern technology alongside the more traditional equipment such as vinyl records and CDs. We are always looking for the right people to join us.”

Many volunteers for Hospital Radio Hastings have been presented with long-service awards from the Hospital Broadcasting Association for their selfless dedication to making patients’ stay at the Conquest a more pleasant one.

Michael Brooks was given one for 10 years of service three weeks ago and Philip Hamblett for volunteering for 15 years.

Last year Steve Wilson clocked up 20 years’ service, as did Elizabeth Held, Terry Kane, 10 years, while Clive Gerrard amassed 30 years.

Mr Brooks, of Ingrams Avenue, in Sidley, said he decided to help out at Hospital Radio Hastings as his brother-in-law had a friend who worked there.

He said: “I had to give up work after having two knee replacement operations. I used to run discos at Bexhill Youth and Community Centre and was interested in music. Joining Hospital Radio Hastings was a way of getting out of the house and meeting other people.”

Michael, 68, added: “I have spent a lot of time in and out of hospital most of my life. When I was two I was in hospital for four-and-a-half years after getting tuberculosis in my hip. I had to have my hip replaced eventually.

“Being able to listen to music while in bed in hospital is nice and I wanted to give pleasure to patients, many of whom cannot get out of bed.”

Hospital Radio Hastings currently has almost 40 volunteers. The charity has to raise around £1,000 a year to keep the station running for a year.

It organises various fundraising events so as to raise the cash needed. In recent years the charity has had to pay an extra fee, around £100 a year, to buy performing rights.

Presenters from Hospital Radio Hastings often visit the Conquest wards, collecting music requests from patients.

Volunteers also, on many occasions, bring their own music collections in but the station does have a library of music to suit all tastes.

One of the most famous people who visited Hospital Radio Hastings during Michael’s tenure was singer Matt Monro’s daughter, Michele, who spoke about her father’s career and has written a biography called The Singer’s Singer: The Life and Music of Matt Monro.

BBC Radio 2 presenter Alex Lester, who has a home in Hastings, is one of the station’s biggest supporters and was at the recent ceremony when volunteers were presented with long-service awards.

Many notable people and celebrities started their careers volunteering on hospital radio.

Chris Moyles, BBC Radio 1 presenter, once worked at Wakefield’s Broadcast to Hospitals Service, Philip Schofield started at Hospital Radio Plymouth and the late Crimewatch presenter, Jill Dando, once volunteered at Sunshine Hospital Radio in Weston-super-Mare.

Closer to home, jazz singer Chris Hutchinson, whose stage name is Mellow D Man, joined Hospital Radio Hastings a month ago to say thank you for the treatment he received after being at death’s door due to serious illness a few years ago.

He had Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a type of cancer which attacks the body’s immune system.

One of his lungs had to be drained of fluid and he underwent chemotherapy. He nearly lost his life twice and was in hospital at least seven times.

The illness returned in 2005 and in 2006 doctors discovered a tumour on his heart. He had to have a major operation at Harefield Hospital in Middlesex to remove the tumour.

Chris, whose father was Leslie Hutchinson, one of the biggest cabaret singers and musicians of the 1920s and 1930s, said: “The Conquest was brilliant and I received wonderful treatment. I have had a lifetime of music and decided to give something back to the hospital. I have nothing but praise for the Conquest. Music is a wonderful healer for patients.”