Memory-making through play at Yorkshire children's hospices

During Children's Hospice Week, Katie Baldwin reports on the therapies bringing some joy to seriously ill youngsters.

They may work at a children’s hospice – but the activity co-ordinators at Bluebell Wood spend their days covered in paint, glue, glitter and shaving foam.

Many think that these are sombre, quiet places, when in fact the focus is on not just providing support and care, but also fun.

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The region’s three children’s hospices, Bluebell Wood in Sheffield, Forget Me Not in Huddersfield and Martin House in Boston Spa, look after children and young people with a range of life-shortening conditions.

As well as caring for them and their families, they also offer a huge range of activities, including sensory and messy play, as well as music therapy.

For children with serious or life-threatening conditions, play is vital to their quality of life – and the Yorkshire Post Children’s Hospices Appeal is raising money to ensure the hospices can continue provide these crucial services.

By next year, our appeal is aiming to collect £30,000 to maintain the work of the region’s hospices.

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Bluebell Wood’s activity co-ordinator Catherine Holland said: “Sensory play helps a child to explore their world and stimulate their senses.

“A large part is encouraging communication and aiding the child’s self-expression. As well as verbal communication, we use Makaton – the use of sign language and symbols – and Tac Pac, which is communicating through music, rhythm and touch. The children really respond to these and it means the interaction between us is both two-way and more beneficial for the child.”

A typical day could involve arts and crafts, baking, use of the sensory room, walks, play in the garden or wheelchair dancing.

Nine-year-old Leona Grace McMillan, who has a rare chromosome-related condition which has left her with limited speech and mobility, can recognise smells, sounds and voices thanks to sensory play.

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Leona, from Southey Green, Sheffield, loves being pampered and having her nails done, as well as music, dancing and football.

Her mum Jayne said: “The team have got to know her character and she loves every minute there. Leona is very people-focussed, she knows and recognises the people at Bluebell Wood and communicates with them, largely through sign language.”

Catherine added that it was amazing to see the little girl enjoying herself: “To see her smile because she feels relaxed, and because she knows who we are and where she is – there’s no feeling like it. It makes what we do all the more worthwhile.”

The hydrotherapy pool at Forget Me Not’s hospice, Russell House, offers children who may not be able to use public swimming baths the opportunity to enjoy the water.

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Sharon Burton, director of care, said: “Many children with life shortening conditions can have severe mobility restrictions.

“Giving them the opportunity to experience buoyancy and freedom of movement in the hydrotherapy pool is often a truly exhilarating and encouraging experience and is great for exercising and stretching joints and muscles.”

Two-year-old Thomas Wilson loves his sessions in the pool.

Thomas, from Outwood, Wakefield, was diagnosed with Congenital Central Hyperventilation Syndrome, a life-shortening condition, at just six months old.

His mum Leah said: “He recognises the hospice as soon as we get into the car park and is literally banging on the door to get inside.

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“Thomas was born with central hypertonia which meant that he was quite floppy and couldn’t lift his head up until he was six months old – the hydrotherapy really helps and we all get in the pool to spend some quality family time together.”

Music therapy is an integral part of services at Martin House.

One of their music therapists, Mike Gilroy, said: “No session is ever the same. While the weather was good recently, I worked with a family and their two young children in the garden, but on another day we might be in a large group in the conservatory with all sorts of instruments to hand, from accordions to ukuleles.”

In the hospice’s teenager and young adult unit, Whitby Lodge, the specialist recording studio is a particular favourite as children and young people can sing along to their favourite tracks and record their own songs.

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Chris Edmondson, who has the rare genetic condition Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 2, is a regular visitor.

The 28-year-old from York said: “I’ve had a few friends that have passed on. Working in the recording studio gives me time to create something to help remember them and the times we’ve shared together. “Some people have made recordings of their favourite pieces and have used them at funerals, and many of us use music and art as a way of coming to terms with our difficulties and finding a way of talking. One of the best things about coming to Whitby Lodge is the talking. It’s healthy to talk about things, and the staff and young people here understand and support you.

“As you move into adulthood, you come up against more barriers that are harder to overcome. “Whitby Lodge is about young adults themselves, not just about medical care. People think it’s about end of life care but without these other aspects of care, perhaps we wouldn’t live as long and as fully as many of us do.”

COLLECT up your coins – and help Yorkshire’s three children’s hospices.

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To mark Children’s Hospice Week we are asking people to gather up all their loose change or coppers and help boost our appeal.

Earlier this month we told how Barry Taylor had been collecting £2 coins from his small change for the past five years.

When he read about the fundraising for Martin House in Boston Spa, Bluebell Wood in Sheffield and Forget Me Not in Huddersfield, he and his wife Angela decided to give a bumper £1,000 donation.

Donate to the appeal online. Or, send a cheque, made payable to Yorkshire Children’s Hospices’ Appeal, to: Kayla Lindsey, Yorkshire Post, No 1 Leeds, 26 Whitehall Road, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS12 1BE. You can also download our donations pack, containing all you need to know to help the appeal.

• Are you supporting the appeal? Tell us about it via social media using #ychappeal or email [email protected].