Life and laughter

Sensory Room at Brian House Children's Hospice, Bispham.'Diane Skinner and grandson Callum Skinner (10).
Sensory Room at Brian House Children's Hospice, Bispham.'Diane Skinner and grandson Callum Skinner (10).
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They say laughter is the best tonic. It’s the first thing you hear as you enter Brian House children’s hospice, at Bispham, lifting the spirits and speaking volumes about the ethos of a place which exists to help children with life-limiting or life-threatening conditions.

Brian House, allied to Trinity, fine tunes that all-important laughter remedy for ailing children entering its comforting confines for day care, overnight or longer stays, for themselves or others, because we all need a break from nearest and dearest from time to time.

There’s a quiet room too, a specialist teenage facility, and two flats offering a haven for families nearing, or at the end of their time here. Twenty children have died in the past five years.

Children soon feel it is a home-from-home here, with trusted volunteers such as Lindsay Dunderdale helping out at nights, and weekends, as well as the staff.

They see Brian House as an extension of their own homes ... and a place where they can enjoy life and be happy.

For those for who that is too great a leap of faith, specialist outreach support is available within their own homes.

Brian House has it covered. Services are free to those who require them, but reliant on the goodwill of benefactors, and all charities, including those that start at home, have taken a hammering from recession and other factors.

Trinity’s annual running costs, for adult and children’s services, run to £6.75m. The annual fundraising target is £4m. Legacy income fluctuates between £1m to £2m a year. This year there has been a drop in legacies. The deficit for Brian House, alone, runs at £670k.

The significance is apparent when you step into a facility transformed by just such a legacy, the new-look multi-sensory room for children. It’s fabulous, as the kids who use it agree. They can’t always express it in words, but make it evident in responses to the stimuli there. It’s a privilege to step within, to see the sudden light in a child’s eyes, where previously there may have been something close to despair, or a quiet acceptance of limitations, medications, manipulations, ever-present minders.

There’s an unwritten rule here, too. Nobody asks why children are here. Carers sit in groups, chat, draw strength from the support of others in the same boat – but braving different icebergs. Here, children can be children, not defined by their illness, but their individuality.

Clinical manager Sister Lorraine Cundy has worked here since it opened 15 years ago, and runs one of the busiest of the 42 children’s hospices in the land, specifically for local children, around 70 of them a year.

Right now is the busiest time of year, brothers and sisters calling in too, and yesterday marked a family open day.

Many are already known to readers of The Gazette, youngsters such as Leah Garfitt, 10, of Fleetwood, about who so much is known, through our coverage and the TV documentary Leah’s Dream, charting her fight against Niemann-Pick disease, which causes memory loss, and decline, similar to Alzheimer’s.

Leah is under the wing of play worker Sue Pelling, a dab hand at restoring quality to life.

There’s Callum Skinner, 11 next month, who can’t wait to try the new teenage room. He’s with gran Diane, and has been designing spooky “goblet of fire” candles, trying the hospice’s flight simulator and designing an imaginary multi-sensory room for grown-ups, on the strict understanding it includes “wine, George Clooney and Alfie Boe singing” for his gran.

Neo and Mario Rice, 10 and six respectively, there with little brother Yuto, two, who has a rare heart condition, throw in an “inflatable Simon Cowell – with pants up to here” (Neo indicates his neck!) for mum Maki.

Mario wants a “dippy egg for nana Sylvia”, and some “big spiders from Japan” so they can scare any girls.

Yuto bawls outrage as Maki weans him into the arms of others, experts, but his first visit to Brian House has still gone well.

Maki hopes he will come to love the place, as funds from the recent Yuto Fest, in Fleetwood, run with musician husband Darren, mean the family can redesign their home to make life a little easier.

Neo adds: “It will give us a bit more space. too, as Yuto keeps us awake, and mum is always busy looking after him.”

As for Brian House? The boys love it, but the last word goes to a smiling Maki. “I thought it would be such a sad place, but it’s not, it’s lovely, welcoming, everyone is so nice.”

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