Meet the Charity Bringing Joy to NHS Children’s Wards: TheRockinR
Video games are a huge form of comfort and an outlet for millions – especially young children. This was just as true for Reece, the remarkable boy TheRockinR gaming charity is named after and in memory of
Jess Miree (24) originally saw herself going into events production to follow her love of music, but plans soon changed when her little brother, Reece, was diagnosed with a DIPG (diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma) brain tumour – a rare and incurable form of cancer.
‘Reece was diagnosed when he developed double vision. He was taken to the opticians, where they clocked something wasn’t right and referred him to our local hospital,’ Jess explains. ‘They turned round and told us he had a DIPG tumour, it’s a terminal diagnosis with no survival. It only effects children, and it’s very underfunded.
‘Reece went for nine months, he was 10 and I was about 19/20 at the time – we were always close, Reece and I,’ Jess reflects. ‘We were very similar to each other. He was an absolute star, all the nurses loved him, they’d queue to come and see him!
‘When he was a little boy he had a Nintendo DS that he was obsessed with, as he got older he moved onto console gaming with a PS4, and then as he got really poorly he had one upstairs and one downstairs which he’d alternate. He was obsessed with gaming,’ Jess continues. ‘Reece was treated as an outpatient – he’d come in for radiotherapy and then go home. He was put on a drug trial at the time for his brain, which was quite a stressful. Reece had to visit once a week for medication, he was put on steroids so his weight changed rapidly, this then meant medications would change weekly as well as blood tests,’ says Jess. ‘He essentially did a lot of waiting around in rooms, and he wasn’t too young to not understand, but we never told him that he was going to die. It was this constant lie we were trying to avoid, which was stressful in itself. A lot of hospitals tend to have these old dusty Xbox 360s bolted to walls, with discs missing and broken. No kid wants to play that, and Candy Crush doesn’t quite cut it when you like your games. Hospitals can be so grey and moody, lots of beeping and wires. That’s where we realised we could do something about it.’
Originally founded by Jess’ mother and father, Jess and her dad Jonny are a two-person team that design, ship, and supply inventive medical carts that’ve been modified into cutting-edge gaming rigs, perfectly sized to fit in hospital rooms to be wheeled in and relieve children of stress.
‘The product is a customised and modified medical cart – we didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. It’s height adjustable all the way from wheelchair to standing positions, so it’s great for hospital beds. It’s got a 24-inch gaming monitor that we attached because it fits in hospital doorways really well,’ Jess elaborates. ‘It’s medically regulated, wipeable, and great for infection control; this helped in Covid, as when communal play areas in hospitals were shut down the carts could still be wheeled into rooms.
‘We used the Xbox series S console, only the latest technology. You get a minimum of 20 pre-downloaded games, things like Fifa, Crash Bandicoot, and Forza, all the way to things like Peppa Pig and Paw Patrol for really little kids. It doesn’t have a disc tray, so it eliminates the risk of theft and loss. We pay for the games, but some we get for free through our partners like Outright Games who give us digital game codes.’ The games are included in the fee, which is £1,799 plus VAT, and delivery. ‘For that you get the games cart, all of the games, the controllers, the monitor, and ongoing technical support that we don’t charge for – we just want them to keep going as long as possible,’ says Jess.
The carts aren’t just a fantastic gift for the children either, they also provide moments of relief for the dedicated NHS staff that monitor and support the UK’s poorly children day in and day out. Jess demonstrates to hospital play specialists how to use the consoles on delivery, putting a kind smile to the face of their charity and reassuring them of TheRockingR’s enduring support.
‘The carts work as such good bribes, especially when kids might be uncomfortable with things on their heads and hooked up to machines,’ Jess continues. ‘There was a child in Manchester recently where nurses said, “Look, we’ll give you this cart if you don’t take your equipment off,” so that stayed in his room for three days! We’ve seen kids that are playing with one hand and having their blood tests done with the other, they make such good bribes,’ Jess laughs. ‘Also, if a play specialist can leave a child on a machine then it gives them more time to give their attention to other children that may really need it.’
In their short few years since starting the charity, Jess and her dad have travelled the UK delivering these carts by hand for any hospital willing to fund them. Delighted whenever they get the chance to bring the joy of gaming to more children in much need of escapism, Jess struggles to comprehend how far they’ve come.
‘We’ve travelled the UK with these carts, we even got back from Ireland yesterday for the first time thanks to a partnership with with charity Starlight, so it’s all got so crazy,’ she says. ‘It means the world when parents come up to us and tell us how they’ve heard about Reece. His account name was TheRockinR on his PS4 and Xbox – he came up with that when he was eight so we stuck with it.’
TheRockinR has made incredible progress in comforting children up and down the UK, receiving partnership funding with charities, having their carts purchased directly from the NHS, and will soon reach Scotland thanks to funding from LNER.
‘Gaming is a comfort that all kids have, it’s an escape that makes them feel like they’re safe at home. From the start we came up with a sensible estimate of six children interacting with one cart per day, each cart is both a games console and a multi-media centre. So far we have delivered 200 carts in over 50 hospitals, and we are helping 438,000 children per year.’
When TheRockinR began, Reece’s family wanted to create a lasting legacy for the joy he brought to them. With his gamertag now in more than 50 hospitals around the country, Jess and Jonny have and will continue to fulfil his ambition to ‘make the Miree name known’ well past his years.
‘Six weeks into his diagnosis Reece became a bit wobbly on his feet, so my dad helped him into the back of the car. Reece said, “You know what, Dad? I’m gonna be the one who puts the Miree name on the map!” And my Dad was freaking out, thinking “Oh my gosh, why did he just say that!”,’ Jess laughs. ‘Reece then paused and said, “I do know one thing Dad, it wont be you!”’