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“I had to get involved!” - Brother of original CHAS child delivers Teddy Bear Picnic.

To coincide with national Teddy Bear Picnic Day last week, staff at CHAS wouldn’t let a global pandemic get in the way of making sure that children with complex health conditions could take part in the annual event.

The team at Rachel House organised two days of activities involving music therapy, sensory storytelling, build-a-bear and a virtual bear hunt through Rachel House, accompanied by a reading of Michael Rosen’s classic ‘We’re All Going On a Bear Hunt’. Children within the hospice as well as those using its new virtual services were able to take part simultaneously, with pampering kits provided by Amazon, Tesco, Morrisons and Rightdose Pharmacy, which were delivered to doorsteps all over the country by Scottish Gas.

As serendipity would have it, one of the Scottish Gas engineers responsible for delivering those care packages has a very special connection to the hospice. Steven Sutherland, aged 45 of Gorebridge, Midlothian is the brother of Suzanne Sutherland, the little girl who helped underline the need for a Scottish hospice service and put it firmly on the national agenda back in 1993.

Suzanne, who suffered from a rare terminal condition, captured the nation’s hearts and helped compel the Scottish public into raising £4 million in funding to ultimately build Rachel House. She was present when the first brick was laid and courageously battled on until she died aged seven in 1998, having been able to use the care and respite services provided by the hospice she helped make a reality.

Steven Sutherland said: “The family is so proud that Suzanne played such a special part in the legacy of CHAS and Rachel House by showing the country how important it was – and remains – that Scotland has a children’s hospice service.”

“When my boss called to say Scottish Gas would be getting involved in deliveries to the families that Rachel House helps out, I had to get involved. I know first-hand the comfort that CHAS and Rachel House can bring to a family.

“Returning as a father myself now, the thought of helping kids and making a little difference in this way means a lot. The first parcels I delivered truly lit up the faces of the children and their dad. I won’t forget it. I feel real pride in the Scottish Gas team that we’re able to help in some small way.”

Elaine Liddle, Charge Nurse at Rachel House, said: “Not a lot can get in the way of the Rachel House team once we turn our mind to something. We acknowledge Teddy Bear Picnic Day every year and literally make a big song and dance about it for families in our garden with friends at Fun Box.

“The fundraising team also do a great deal to help organise events around the country. Even though that’s all on pause for now, it was lovely to integrate our physical and virtual hospice activities in this way. The kids all had a ball and it kept our team on their feet!

“Our thanks go to Rightdose Pharmacy, Tesco, Morrisons and Amazon for providing the pampering kits and to Scottish Gas for delivering them safely to shielding families. It’s wonderful that Steven was involved, having such a deep personal connection to the house. This is the second time he’s helped us out with deliveries so sincere gratitude goes to him.”

“Reaching children and families in the ways we would ordinarily like to has required some inventive thinking but our clinical staff and family support teams are rising to the challenge in the physical world and now in the online one too. We are continually tailoring what we do and the feedback has been really encouraging.”

CHAS is the only charity in Scotland that provides hospice services for babies, children and young people with life-shortening conditions. The national charity offers palliative care and respite for the whole family via its two hospices, Rachel House in Kinross and Robin House in Balloch. The CHAS at Home service supports families in their own homes across the whole of Scotland and has teams working in communities and hospitals across the country.

Like many other charities left reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, CHAS has had to dramatically transform the way in which it provides its increasingly important services. They have set up Scotland’s first ever virtual hospice to support children and families who are having to completely self-isolate.

The virtual hospice has now been operational for four months, offering families extensive assistance, whether it relates to clinical guidance, financial advice or bereavement support, by video and phone. CHAS family support teams are also offering an expanding range of interactive activities, art clubs, storytelling and conference calls to children and parents, with more in the pipeline.

Although safeguarding is very much in place as lockdown measures continue to ease, children needing urgent physical and end of life care are welcomed at both Rachel and Robin House, where staff continue to work tirelessly to provide palliative assistance in a comfortable environment.

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