Leeds hospice that makes life worth living for seriously ill children
Martin House Hospice.
Published on Monday 13 August 2012 15:33 YEP
August 14 is the 25th anniversary of Martin House, a Leeds hospice dedicated to helping children and their loved ones affected by life-limiting illness.
Rod McPhee visited the centre to meet the staff and the families they support.
There’s a lot of love in this place.
For the past quarter of a century Martin House has thrown a lifeline to desperate families. But more than that, somehow, magically, they’ve managed to bring a little light to their darkest hours.
More than 400 youngsters – over half aged 13 and almost a third over the age of 16 – use the specialist facilities at the hospice which are tailor-made for children with life-limiting illnesses.
But it is the devoted, patient and hardworking staff that make the house a home, often offering a second family to catch their guests when they fall. And most do stumble along this, the hardest of journeys.
Managers of the hospice, on the outskirts of Leeds, are particularly proud to have reached the 25 year anniversary because the milestone serves as a reminder and a moment to look back at the enormous achievement made by Martin House.
Now there are 44 children’s hospices across the UK, but when the local vicar, the Rev Richard Seed, who went on to become the Archdeacon of York. helped launch the fundraising efforts in 1984 there was just one other centre like it in the country – and he just happened to have set that up too.
It’s curious to think that children’s hospices are such a new arrival when you consider the very specialised needs of young people and their families.
“What you have to remember is that some of the symptoms displayed by the children are so rare they don’t have a name,” says Alyson Wort, one of Martin House’s fundraisers, charged with finding 88 per cent of the hospice’s annual £5m running costs.
“And those children who do have identifiable conditions often need specialist treatment, plus their families will probably need special help to get through what is a terrible time.”
Many of the conditions may be obvious from birth, or appear in the early years. Some children may be dealing with illnesses which can afflict any child. But whatever the circumstances, everyone receives the same amount of attention.
The hospice’s mere existence also acknowledges the unique experience which families of children affected by life-limiting illnesses must endure.
No parent should have to see their child pass away, but when it happens staff help families come to terms with an aspect of life that few of us want to consider.
Martin House was given its title after housemartins tried to nest in the building the moment it went up. It seemed particularly appropriate since housemartins frequently have more than one nest which reflects the way most families use the services provided – by going from their actual home to their second home.
Chef Robin Wraith is one of the original team at the hospice. He’s become something of a legend since his smile first beamed through the serving hatch back in 1987 and knows all too well how much change they have instigated.
“We’re on Grove Road, and this side of the street is officially Clifford, while the other side of the road is Boston Spa,” he says “But just you try telling the people of Boston Spa that! They’re now so proud we’re here.
“But in the beginning it wasn’t always like that. I remember back in the 80s one or two people in the area weren’t so sure about us coming here.
“And I think that’s as much about the unknown as anything else, I think they thought it would be a case of ambulances coming in one entrance while hearses left through another. And, of course, it’s not really like that at all.”
The reality is that thousands of children have been helped by Martin House, each with widely varying conditions of different degrees of severity. Some do die, others lives for years, only passing through the hospice before going on to adult life.
The idea of a ‘one way ticket’ into the hospice isn’t the reality either.
Many receive care in their own homes. Some stay occasionally or frequently in one of the 15 bedrooms on site, which are divided between the main centre and a dedicated teenagers’ wing, which was created ten years ago. Sometimes the biggest help can just be the sound of a reassuring voice on the end of the phone – another service which the hospice provides.
But nor does the hospice shy away from the facts facing a child with a life-limiting illness.
The focus is always on heightening the experience of young lives which may be short, but it’s also about caring for the emotional needs of the loved ones they leave behind.
Which is why, although they care for 400 children across the region, hospice staff are still caring for 140 families who have suffered a bereavement. And that care continues for months or years into the future. But it begins at the darkest moment by making the death of a loved one a moment to cherish.
“Here at Martin House we have what we call The Little Room,” says fundraiser Sarah Tarpey “And that’s a room where we might place a child when they have passed away.
“We do this because, once someone has passed away, you’re faced with something of a dilemma about what to do while a family makes all the necessary arrangements they need to make when you lose someone.
“If they were in a hospital, they might end up in the mortuary, or the other alternative might be just to leave them in their beds, which isn’t really appropriate.
“But The Little Room is somewhere where a family can put someone and have it as their own space. It’s not impersonal, in fact they can make it as personal as they like, even decorate the place how they like with photos and objects, whatever they want to make their last few moments special. And that’s very important.”
With such an incredible service provided to the region, offered to any family who needs it, it’s difficult to believe that the bulk of their £5m annual funding has to be found from donations.
The NHS provides just 12 per cent of their running costs but, thankfully, they have a loyal legion of supporters who regularly stage events to rake in cash, not to mention a superb fundraising team.
But it remains a constant challenge and the hospice always needs more help.
* To find out more about the work of Martin House or to make a donation visit: www.martinhouse.org.uk or call 01937 844836
Yorkshire Evening Post, 14/08/2012
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