2019 sees the start of the BPA’s two-year partnership with Acorns who are now our nominated charity until 2021. Alongside this I will be taking the reins of the BPA Chair, officially taking up the role in April at the AGM. So, when Acorns offered me the chance to visit their hospice, Acorns in Birmingham, based in Selly Oak, I happily accepted.
I’ve driven past the building on Oak Tree Lane hundreds of times, rarely giving it a second thought before now. There was a partnership with Aston Villa a few years ago and other than that I didn’t really have an idea as to how Acorns operated or what happened when a child entered the building. As I drove up the entrance it was not without a little bit of trepidation. “Hospice” is a very powerful word, even more so when associated with children and as a new dad I was a little apprehensive and did wonder how I would feel during the visit.
I met Natalia Keene (Acorns Corporate Fundraising Manager) in reception and started with a chat about Acorns today and a few things really stood out. It costs £7,000 a day to run one their three hospice locations. In the past year, Acorns has cared for more than 870 children and supported over 1,140 families, including those who are bereaved. And today it remains the largest children’s’ hospice in the world.
Following the introduction, it was into the main building and any thoughts I had were dispelled pretty much immediately. From that second it was clear this was a long way from a typical medical facility I was perhaps expecting. The first thing I noticed was that none of the staff wore uniforms, creating a very informal and non-medical feeling and if it put me at ease, then I am sure it would have the same effect on a seven-year-old.
The interior of the building had much more in common with a school or even a community centre warm, cosy, carpeted and decorated with posters and graphics. The children’s bedrooms looked like… well… kids’ bedrooms, with all of them having collections of cuddly toys, games, dvds, books and carpets.
The communal rooms had big comfy sofas, massive TVs, games, more cuddly toys and every room was flooded with natural daylight – none of the electric glow of strip lighting so common in the medical world.
It all felt very much like a home, and as I chatted to the staff it was clear that this is very much the environment that had been created. Again, my misconceptions, but I didn’t realise that children and families can use the facilities for a day or even an afternoon, rather than for long term stays. The kids bring the friends and siblings too, using some of the amazing facilities and spending the time just being kids.
Among these facilities there is a swimming pool, with more inflatable toys than I’ve ever seen in one place, a sensory room with lights, textured walls, play mats and even a disco ball. This room has been the venue for a Prom too. A room for teenagers, with games consoles and even a self-contained flat they can hang out with each other and no doubt communicate on their phones. There is also a garden, with lots of interactive things to play with, my favourite being the drums…
I also discovered as much of the support and care happens outside the hospice with outreach nurses supporting children and families all over the region. Whether that be specific care for a child or allowing the family to just do some of the day-to-day things that can be so difficult for them due to the circumstances they find themselves in.
As with most hospices Acorns survives on donations and the goodwill of volunteers and there are plenty of opportunities to get involved. We’ll be promoting as many as we can through the BPA over the next two years and there really is something for everyone to do; from gardening to music to even helping with the 24/7 laundry and the four washing machines that eat through the never-ending baskets of washing!
There are of course some unimaginably sad conversations that take place within the four walls but that the fact this care, support and compassion is available on our door step is something to be eternally grateful for.
But for the majority of the time the normal atmosphere is one of laughing and smiles rather than tears and sadness. The children who visit look forward to their trips, as it allows them to be children for the time they are in the building and the memories they make are precious to everyone who experiences them. This, more than anything, is the feeling I had when I left and the one that will stay with me following the visit.