Christmas spirit shines at EACH near Attleborough

While many look forward to gathering with their loved ones at Christmas spare a thought for those families who have suffered the most unbearable of circumstances this year – the loss of a child.

But also take comfort that some will not have faced their ordeal alone thanks to the invaluable support from staff at East Anglia's Children's Hospices (EACH).

They will remain on call over Christmas, ready to attend people's homes or open up the doors at the charity's hospices to provide compassionate end of life care for those families in need.

But while EACH staff are dedicated to helping the bereaved, its centres are also places where the Christmas spirit shines.

The charity works hard to ensure all children with life-threatening illnesses are given the best opportunities to make the most of their lives, and offers services such as day care, overnight breaks, complementary therapies and specialist play opportunities which allow youngsters to indulge in fun like making music and crafts.

Families visiting its hospice at Quidenham, near Attleborough, are greeted with festive cakes, carols and colourful decorations while well-wishers annually lavish free toys on the children.

The centre also hosted its own Christmas party at the Central Hall in Wymondham this month which was attended by about 200 people where staff donned fancy dress and excitable youngsters were given the chance to meet Father Christmas.

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Julia Shirtliffe, head of palliative care services, said: 'We believe life is for living. Some of the children will have a long journey with us and for some it will be quite short, but we make sure they all have fun.'

Mrs Shirtliffe said Christmas can be a difficult time for bereaved families as people naturally take stock of the months gone by, but support groups continue to be active during this period to help.

In addition to emergency end of life care, families can feel assured that nurses experienced in symptom management will also be on hand throughout the bank holidays and a support line will remain manned at all times.

She added: 'On Christmas and Boxing Day we do not book families into the hospice but if we have an emergency then we will welcome them. Unfortunately we can not stop children being ill at Christmas. If you do a job like this you expect that it's a 24-hour a day job and staff are used to that. But there's a lot to get from it and this is really a happy place to be over the Christmas period.'

The spirit is buoyed for generous donors who either give money through festive fundraising activities, such as EACH's annual Santa Runs, or supply toys and equipment.

People's continued generosity means the charity, which requires �4.8m per year in public donations, has managed to successfully weather the current economic storm.

Last December, the Quidenham hospice opened its doors to fundraisers to say thank you for their part in helping to pay for a �390,000 expansion which increased the size of its family accommodation, children's beds and office space.

Next year staff look forward to revamping the site's 21-year-old sensory room and create a new garden where parents can relax.

'Each year we increase the amount of children who come here and we increase what we can offer. It definitely makes a difference to get children out of hospitals,' said Mrs Shirtliffe.

'We have lovely children who really enjoy coming here, and that is the most important thing for us.'

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