Welcome on board the Ark in Barnet
PUBLISHED: 19:02 23 September 2010 | UPDATED: 08:57 21 February 2013
Gill Dodge, Chief Executive of Noah's Ark Children's Hospice in Barnet, explains why laughter and tears go hand in hand
'FOR many of us, hearing the words 'children's hospice' evokes a variety of different images - the most common being that we think it is a building where children, with cancer, go to die and that all the care is focused on the life-limited child. Most of us believe it is a very sad place, but a children's hospice service is so much more than that.'
Gill continues, 'The fact is that most life-limited children have conditions which mean that their bodies fail them over a period of 10 years, sometimes even longer. Much of the care given by a children's hospice service happens in the child's own home - helping the family to live as normal a life as possible. You can help make the quality of life better for an ill child, but mums, dads, brothers and sisters, who will be left behind, also deserve proper support and care to help them cope and face the future with hope.'
A real need
Noah's Ark Children's Hospice was established in December 1999 by the current Chair of Trustees, Michael McInerney, following the death of a child in his extended family. In the mid 1990s a children's hospice service didn't exist in London and the family didn't get the type of support they really needed. Michael wanted to change this and started Noah's Ark. Thus the journey began. Gill's own appointment, in 2005, came after a dedicated fundraising effort by the Trustees and a small band of charity supporters.
Establishing a children's hospice service is a long haul and, as Noah's Ark approaches its first decade, it can reflect on how far it has come already. 'The last few years have been brilliant' smiles Gill. 'Our support has been building and our community outreach service is now delivering a much-needed service in Enfield and Barnet.'
Noah's Ark aims to support an estimated 350 life-limited children/young people and their families living in north London. Working in partnership with other agencies, effort is focussed on delivering flexible services that meet the needs of each family. 'It's about helping families to live positive lives whilst caring for their child and create happy memories to sustain them into the future,' Gill adds. 'Family life needs to be made as normal as possible, whilst accepting that they are living with the knowledge that their child will die. So, it is not all about dying - it is about making the most of the life that's there to be lived.'
Integral to this service is the respite play scheme, launched in September 2006 - with trained play specialists going into families' homes to give the children, and their siblings, positive therapeutic and recreational play experiences. Having already worked with over 50 families, during 2009 Noah's Ark hopes to extend this service to reach more families, including those living in the communities of Islington, Camden and Haringey.
Launched last June, the family support volunteer scheme, is the latest service development aimed at providing additional support to families. 'The scheme matches trained volunteers with families. Volunteers undergo a lengthy training process to ensure they understand the needs of families and the issues that may arise when working with them. Our focus is on helping each family in the ways they request - this is at the core of the volunteer-family relationship.' Gill continues, 'Volunteers help in a variety of ways - with the ironing, supporting a sibling with homework, by getting families to hospital appointments and generally being a friendly face, offering support.' Gill feels this gift of time is very special. 'The children we are helping are 'life-limited', not being expected to reach their 19th birthday. But if you think about it, all of us just have one life - that's why our volunteers are brilliant for giving up their own, precious time.'
For Gill and her small team of dedicated staff, delivery of these much-needed services to families is at the core of their thinking. '2009 is proving tough given the economic situation. However, we do have ambitious plans! With a newly appointed Head of Care, we envisage a nursing-led team of trained carers delivering sessions of respite care in families' homes - to encompass day, night and weekend cover. 2009 is going to be a real challenge - but our families deserve all the help we can give.'
Noah's Ark is always keen to welcome new supporters - to volunteer, and to raise money but also to help spread the word. It's a local charity with a BIG vision but ultimately Noah's Ark has one goal at its heart. 'We want to help ordinary families who find themselves in a unique and tough situation,' Gill finishes. None of us knows what is round the corner - perhaps it's time we all considered getting aboard the Ark?
If you are interested in learning more about the charity, want to volunteer or have ideas of how to raise funds, please call 020 8449 8877 or visit www.noahsarkhospice.org.uk