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The Oakhaven Schools Project
Loss and transition are part of the National Curriculum – subjects that many schools find difficult to teach. Prompted by this need, staff at Oakhaven Hospice in Lymington explored ways of addressing such topics with schools in our catchment area.
From this, we developed the Acorn project two years ago. It aims to create links between Oakhaven hospice and local schools. The rationale, in line with the End of Life Care Strategy|, is to promote a good understanding of palliative care by encouraging thought and discussion around death and dying.
The project offers an opportunity for people to learn more about the hospice through the eyes of children, and gives patients and carers a space to talk about their experiences. It is inspired by a similar model at St Christopher’s Hospice in London.
The project runs one afternoon a week for four weeks. After I visit the children and parents at school, week one introduces the children to the hospice and the Oakhaven team. The children, aged between seven and 18, have a tour and do a quiz before meeting with patients and hearing their stories. Time is given to explore feelings that arise from this and ask questions. We end each session with cake, courtesy of Betty.
During the next two weeks, everyone gets to know each other while working on an art activity together. We discuss aspects of hospice life, demonstrate equipment commonly used, and the patients show aids that they use, such as wigs and colostomy bags.
During the last week we invite family members to a party where the children discuss what they have learned. They are awarded with certificates, badges and a goody bag, including information to share with parents. Parents and carers are often moved by the bonds that have formed within the group and by the ease with which difficult issues are discussed.
Bringing patients and pupils together continues to be extremely successful. It informs not only the children, but also reaches other pupils at their school, teachers, parents, and, through them, the wider community.
On completion, everyone is invited to fill out simple evaluation forms that are used to develop and improve the service. Direct quotes, comments and photographs are also used to create story boards and displays for venues around the community. These have proved interesting and informative.
Feedback has always been extremely positive and we have a steady flow of patients and carers wanting to be involved. Patients approach us through their clinical nurse specialist, day hospice, inpatient unit or physiotherapy and complementary therapy outpatient services. We also occasionally attract patients who have previously been wary of the hospice, but who have heard about the project and are keen to be involved.
This year, Oakhaven has worked with nine groups of young people. We are booked up in advance, with further schools expressing a keen interest to take part. Macmillan supported my role as Oakhaven Schools Project Coordinator in 2011 to continue to develop the model and to roll it out to other hospices.
The approach has developed beyond the four-week model. I work closely with Personal, Health and Social Care teachers to support death education to meet syllabus requirements for GCSE, AS, A level and BTEC students.
Besides college-based lessons, the students visit the hospice to meet patient and carer groups, and receive teaching from members of the multidisciplinary team. I also visit schools, talk to assemblies and lead teaching sessions.
I believe passionately that the hospice has an important role to play within public education and health promotion. I enjoy sharing my experiences and knowledge with others through conferences, training days, displays and word of mouth. I also work closely with the fundraising team, who report that they have seen an increase in younger volunteers and funding opportunities.
A new toolkit with templates and tips from the project will be available from Learn Zone| in April.
Thank you to Oakhaven Hospice, Macmillan, and Simon Says, a Hampshire-based child bereavement service. Special thanks to the Acorn team, staff, volunteers, teachers, children, and most importantly the carers and patients.
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