Jonny Miree, along with wife Carol and daughter Jessie, are behind TheRockinR, a charity that provides gaming equipment to children in hospitals and hospices. Driven by the tragic loss of their 11-year-old son Reece to an incurable brain tumour, the family saw the comfort that games brought him during his illness and decided to pass the experience on. Now dozens of hospitals across England have TheRockinR gaming carts, which are making a difficult time a little bit easier for sick kids and their loved ones.
Miree, from Wakefield, was in the Royal Marines for around eight years and now does counter-terrorism training part-time. That, he said, often doesn’t square up with the kind of charity he runs in the minds of many; but he and Reece “were always gamers”.
In May 2017, Reece developed double vision. The following month, he was diagnosed with a brain tumour known as DIPG (diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma) and given less than a year to live. For the next nine months, Reece and his family were in and out of hospital while he received six weeks of radiotherapy, scans and surgeries. In February 2018, he had lost the use of his left arm (something his dad notes as a huge blow because it impacted on his ability to play games), and the following month he died.
“Any parent would say the same, but I do believe that Reece had much more to offer,” Miree tells The Big Issue. “My son loved to give, and we were helped out a lot when he was ill.
“So I thought: How do I honour my boy? It seemed obvious to give something back to other children, something he would have liked.” TheRockinR was Reece’s online gametag.
The family was already well aware of how big an impact gaming can have when life is turned upside down. “When he was unwell, his life changed,” his dad says. “The way he looked, his mobility, and that’s where gaming came back into it.
“At home it kept him distracted, it gave him some sense of normality, and crucially the headset kept him in touch with his friends since he wasn’t at school any more.” But when in hospital, Reece grew bored and tense. The family wished they could pull some gaming equipment up to his bedside.
With the support of @BromptonSupport #therockinr have installed 2 X medical gaming carts into @RBandH #royalbromptonhospital for the children on the wards there to enjoy 😁 .. a huge thanks to all the staff for making this happen, the kids will love them 🎮 #playmatters #gaming pic.twitter.com/P8rbyjDRbw
— 🎗️TheRockinR Gaming Charity🎗️ (@TheRockinR13) January 20, 2020
The Mirees quickly got to work on setting up a charity after Reece died, something his father says helped him hold it together. They set up a crowdfunder which raised nearly £7,000 from the public which helped them get the venture off the ground, and later they were awarded £8,000 of National Lottery funding.
“The idea was to make sure each cart had two controllers, so you’re setting up a social interaction,” Miree says. “Not just between children, but siblings and parents can get involved. It could be the only normal-feeling thing they do that day.”
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TheRockinR started in local hospitals where Reece had received treatment, but soon hospitals up and down the country were getting in touch. The set-up is simple: a medical cart with a monitor and an Xbox One attached, loaded with up to 24 of the most recent games. Within a matter of months, TheRockinR had a waiting list of 76 hospitals. The charity fundraises to be able to donate gaming carts, but many hospitals also choose to buy one through their own charities.
There are now more than 40 gaming carts in operation; Birmingham Children’s Hospital recently ordered 11 in one go. Other facilities use the equipment with adults coming out of stroke rehabilitation because the games help hand-eye coordination, while play specialists might make a deal with children in their care – if they go for a blood test, they can play games.
“One kid in Nottingham said he didn’t want to leave hospital because of the gaming cart. If that doesn’t say we made his time in treatment easier I don’t know what does.”
The charity is made up of just Jonny, his wife and his daughter, and together they deliver gaming carts all over the country. (Last year they held a competition on Facebook to give a cart to one hospital. One hundred and thirteen entered. They ended up driving to Plymouth to deliver it.) That means they’re feeling the pressure to fundraise at the same time.
“A lot of the time hospitals say, ‘It’d be great to see you again’. We realised if we get them shipped we’ll become another faceless charity. This is a purpose so personal to us, it wouldn’t seem right if we weren’t delivering the carts personally too. And it means we can pass on Reece’s story.”
TheRockinR reckon they’ll hit 100 gaming carts before the end of the year, and they’re in the process of moving into Scottish hospitals. The goal remains the same – to keep Reece’s generosity alive in the minds of everyone whose time as a patient is made so much easier.
What’s in a cart?
Hospitals who are gifted or choose to buy a gaming cart receive:
• NHS-approved hospital cart, attached to:
• Xbox One S 1TB gaming console
• 2 x wireless controllers
• 24-inch HD gaming monitor
• At least 10 age-appropriate pre-loaded games, including Fifa 20, Forza Horizon, Minecraft, Crash Bandicoot, Rocket League, Lego and educational games.
• Full training in how to use the cart with continued support
Illustration: Matthew Brazier