In 2016 I decided to take a step away from my office job in communications and follow a new path, retraining in Art Therapy. As part of this process I wanted to gain a bit more experience of working directly with families, and to be part of an organisation that gives back to the community.
I have been volunteering for Noah’s Ark for just over a year, and am lucky enough to be involved in a number of their voluntary services, including Home Support, offering dedicated 1:1 support to a family, and Family Activities (helping out at fun-filled accessible social events for families, siblings, and ‘Noah’s Ark’ children with complex needs.
Working with children and young people has been a passion of mine for many years, especially within the health sector, and I have had so much fun as a Noah’s Ark volunteer. There is always such a wonderful friendly atmosphere at every event, and it is evident from their smiles how much enjoyment the families get from the activities. The feeling of fulfilment I get at being able to help support Noah’s Ark to provide their services as a volunteer is so incredibly gratifying.
When Noah’s Ark announced they were going to be piloting a new service in partnership with Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) focussing on sibling support onsite within their Intensive Care Wards, I knew I had to get involved.
The concept behind the Sibling Support Club scheme is particularly poignant for me, as I have a very personal appreciation of the need and value for this type of support, as a result of direct experience within my family of neurological trauma following on from a serious medical condition. At the time, neither my younger brother nor I had access to any kind of sibling support where we could either be distracted with games or process what was happening to our sister. As such, I can identify and empathise with many of the emotional strains affecting both the siblings and the families who are at GOSH. For me, the opportunity to be involved in such a special niche pilot so close to my heart was too exciting to miss.
As well as volunteering for Noah’s Ark, I also volunteer (in a separate capacity) for GOSH’s Weekend Club, a play activities service for the patients and their siblings, so I felt in a particularly unique position to be able to actively help facilitate the club.
The Sibling Support Club currently runs every Wednesday from 4 until 6pm. It has recently finished its pilot status, and has been so well received by everyone that Noah’s Ark and GOSH are planning to expand its availability. The majority of the siblings who have attended the service so far have been under three, so many of our activities have been centred around soft and sensory play, blowing bubbles and using the wall mounted ‘movement and noise’ toys available in the Club room.
Interactive group drawing with the brightly coloured crayons always goes down well, and the building (then naturally the knocking down) of towers using rubber bricks. No session is ever the same so it is a constant learning curve for us, but the GOSH nurses have provided us with a great range of games, craft and puzzle resources for all ages, so there is definitely something for everyone. If there comes a point in the session where a sibling gets a bit tired, then we slowly calm the activities down and sing nursery rhymes, or read stories from the room’s little library.
We have had some amazing feedback from parents about the service. The club has been used when parents need dedicated time to have specialist care training, and one parent said it had given them the space to simply be able to hold their other child without worrying about their younger sibling. It also allows the siblings some freedom to play, a change of scene, and a space to interact with other children.
Sometimes the parents ask questions about the service and end up staying for a longer chat, so we also provide them with a small pocket of respite – it is a safe space away from the wards for them to talk about anything they wish, be it the weather, their work or their family. I think the consistency of the service is important too, even if a family does not use the club for a week or two, they know it is there if they need it.
The biggest challenge is just how fast a family’s circumstances can change on the Intensive Care Wards. It can be tricky to incorporate the unpredictability of the clinical setting into the smooth running of the club. However the training from both organisations I have found to be second to none, so you really do feel ready and equipped to deal with a multitude of scenarios. The GOSH Family Liaison Nurses and the Care Team at Noah’s Ark are fantastic to work with – everyone is incredibly approachable and communicative. It is easy to discuss any new ideas or activities we would like to try.
The Noah’s Ark volunteers who make up the Sibling Support Club team are all amazing, and everyone brings something different to the table. We have such a diverse range of skills to offer to the parents and siblings. When a parent arrives at the close of the Club and tells us just how much those few hours have helped them, it really puts into perspective how valuable the service is. I feel very lucky to be part of this innovative service, and to be able to volunteer alongside such wonderful people!
For more information visit Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospice