Hospital Schools

Spending time in hospital due to illness can be a very difficult and scary experience, particularly for children, and often means missing out on mainstream school and the opportunity to take part in physical activity. For those children, attending a Hospital School can help to reduce the impact of their illness on their education.

Chance to Shine, in partnership with Capital Kids Cricket and supported by the Angus Lawson Memorial Trust, began to deliver pioneering cricket sessions for the young people receiving treatment at the Children’s Hospital School at Great Ormond Street (GOSH) in 2007. The cricket-themed programme, which has since been delivered at the Evelina Children’s Hospital at St Thomas’, The Teenage Cancer Unit at The Royal Marsden Hospital and Lavender Walk Adolescent Mental Health Unit in London, aims to help improve the hospital experience of young people and aid their recovery from physical and psychological trauma.

Coaches Denise O’Neill and Ray Tudor work with a variety of children from different backgrounds who have a terminal illness, severe mental health difficulties or have experienced a traumatic event and therefore have missed a significant amount of mainstream school or may have never been.

The cricket-themed sessions draw on a variety of traditional and non-traditional cricket activities that ensure that each young person can take part and often complements other specialist activity and physiotherapy support they receive. “It’s very nice for kids to be able to play games with other children, to move, to not be sitting on the classroom chair or in bed.” says Cristina Garcia, a teacher at Evelina Hospital. “Before discharge they all need to start being mobile and moving their body so they can get their energy levels back, get their muscles level back after a long period of not being well. It’s an activity that everyone enjoys and it’s needed.”

Some of the children they work with may also have an existing negative relationship with sport, but through Denise and Ray’s hard work they are able to connect with even the hardest to reach young people to develop their social and teamwork skills. “Cricket is one of those sports, it’s quite a calming sport” says Denise, “the coordination, the teamwork, cricket is a fantastic sport and anybody can play it. Whatever works just so these kids can take part. Everything is up for being adapted. If you want bat or bowl, that is absolutely fine, but we’ll make it fun, that everybody joins in.” Danielle Valdar, Assistant Head at Great Ormand Street has also seen the benefits, “Some children might see PE in the timetable and tell us ‘oh I can’t do PE, I don’t do PE at my school’, which is probably true. We always say it is accessible, it’s really gentle, you can take it at your own pace and they realise it can be accessible and enjoyable for them.”

Following the announcement of a national lockdown in March 2020, due to the outbreak of Covid-19, teachers were no longer able to visit Hospital Schools and many pupils no longer had access to enrichment activities.

Unfortunately, due to restrictions on the number of staff allowed on site at Children’s Hospital School at GOSH, sessions did not take place throughout lockdown but Ray and Denise have been delivering virtually at Evelina and in person at Lavender walk (as some participants are not able to receive online sessions due to their mental health). “In the beginning, they [the children] were like ‘wow! What are we going to do? I can’t play games with them [the coaches] and I say ‘well yes but I am here, I’ll bring them [Ray and Denise on a call], they will give us instructions, the rules and the advice on how to make it better and they’ll play with us. I think we found a way to make it work” said Cristina.

Initially, the new online sessions proved to be a challenge for Ray and Denise, “It’s different [on] computers….you’re learning to come across and do a PE session,” says Ray, “you’re telling a teacher or a nurse maybe ‘this is what I want you to do with this child’, so it has been [a learning experience] for Denise and me because it’s not something we’re used to do doing. But we know we want to do it because if we don’t do it, these kids are not going to get their session, their fun time. So it has been challenging for us but we’ve been getting help from the teachers there, so it’s worth doing that and [it’s] been going really good.” The emergence of online learning in fact turned out to be a big positive for many of the pupils according to Danielle, “the whole world moving online benefits them in some ways because there are things that they can do now as children with long term illness or disability that they weren’t able to do before. This new accessibility on the online world benefits them.”

The response the team receives from the teachers, clinicians and young people is incredibly positive, “It’s a fantastic programme. Our full-time teachers, they really value the specialist input. The difference in what Ray and Denise can offer versus what we offer is huge. Their ideas about how to make things accessible at the bedside are really valued. We try to create a bit of normality and participating in Chance to Shine sessions is part of that. You don’t have to leave fun and games and sport and activity at the door just because you’ve come into hospital.” says Danielle.

In 2019 Denise’s work in hospitals was recognised as Chance to Shine Awards when she was awarded the NatWest #NoBoundaries Award. Whilst she acknowledges the multiple challenges she faces in her role. “Once they’ve had that time and they can go back and go, ‘I had such a fun day’, my job’s done. We want to keep it growing so when I eventually retire it will continue. I want this to go on forever because it works.”

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