Children’s hospices charity helps families to cope throughout pandemic

Sign for children's hospices

East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices (EACH) is a charity providing palliative care and wellbeing support from its three facilities in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridge - Credit: Archant

The East of England Co-op's #EastTogether campaign, in partnership with Archant, explores the positive impacts of community action during the coronavirus pandemic. Director of care Tracy Rennie explains how East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices (EACH) is providing vital support to families when they need it most. 

Established in 1998, East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices (EACH) provides end of life care, symptom management, bereavement counselling and wellbeing support for children with conditions such as cancer, leukaemia, metabolic disorders and birth injuries. 

“I have witnessed first-hand how care has developed over the last 25 years,” says director of care Tracy Rennie. “When I started in 1995, children with complex needs lived and died in hospital. It is completely different today. Families have the choice to have children cared for at home.” 

Diana, Princess of Wales, opened East Anglia’s first children’s hospice in Milton, Cambridge in 1989. EACH was formed when the Milton hospice merged with a site at the Carmelite Monastery in Quidenham in 1991. Another hospice in Suffolk was soon added, though this was replaced by The Treehouse, Ipswich in 2011. 

After outgrowing the site at Quidenham, the charity raised £10 million to build The Nook at Framingham Earl in 2019 – a new single-floor site opened by Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, featuring fully equipped bedrooms, specialist bathrooms, counselling rooms, a hydrotherapy pool, sensory room and music and art therapy studios.  

HRH The Duchess of Cambridge opens the new EACH charity shop in Holt, Norfolk.PHOTO: Nick Butcher

HRH The Duchess of Cambridge opened the new EACH charity shop in Holt and The Nook at Framingham Earl before the pandemic - Credit: Nick Butcher

“Thank goodness we had The Nook when Covid-19 first hit,” Tracy says. “Without it we would not have been able to deliver the nursing care we have needed to provide throughout the pandemic.” 

Essential end of life and emergency care both at home and in the hospices has continued face-to-face despite the pandemic. “One of the unique ways in which we work is that we can deliver care wherever it is needed,” Tracy explains. “About half of the care we provide is actually in the family home and in the community.” 

Many services have been adapted and migrated online, including support groups for bereaved families, activities, counselling and the annual Memory Day service.  

“We had to learn very quickly to work virtually via Zoom and Microsoft Teams,” Tracy adds. “This has been a real positive to come out of something so devastating, as families now have access to online support that was not available before. 

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East Anglia's Children's Hospices director of care Tracy Rennie - Credit: EACH

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"For families and staff, the hardest thing to cope with is the loss of human connection. It is really hard not to touch someone when they are distressed. We are wearing masks, so we have learned to smile with our eyes. Nevertheless we are still able to be with families and create memories they can hold forever. Activity sessions have proved very popular as children just want to have fun so it can be very uplifting.” 

As with many charities, income has been significantly impacted by coronavirus. Tracy estimates that the charity loses £100,000 each week its 43 retail stores are closed, in addition to £50,000 lost through cancelled fundraising activities. However, the community has mobilised to offer help.  

“The support we have received from the community has been brilliant,” Tracy says. “People are being really creative in how they can raise funds in different ways.” 

EACH received £5,000 from the East of England Co-op's Community Cares Fund to deliver nursing services safely to families in their homes. 

“In times of uncertainty, when funding like that comes through it is so significant,” says Tracy. “We know we can rely on that income while our retail stores are closed. Partners and organisations like the East of England Co-op are absolutely critical for us to be able to sustain our services.” 

The government has also announced a cash injection for hospices nationwide, although EACH awaits details regarding what that means for the organisation. Tracy hopes that interventions such as these will help EACH continue to provide the essential service it is there for. 

“The number of children that need our care is increasing all the time,” she explains. “From birth, children are living longer with their conditions as care and treatment continues to improve. Because of this we need your support more than ever. Every single pound that the general public gives us makes a difference.” 

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