St Elizabeth Hospice’s groundbreaking project to tackle taboos around death with schoolchildren has proved so successful in East Suffolk, it is now open to schools in North Suffolk and South Norfolk.
St Elizabeth Hospice, which provides local Hospice care for local people, launched the initiative called the Larch Group in 2011, to promote awareness of death and dying and dispel many of the myths around the subject for schoolchildren.
Since then, schools from Leiston and Ipswich have taken part and now schools from Waveney and Great Yarmouth are being invited to join sessions at the new Louise Hamilton Centre, in Gorleston, where St Elizabeth Hospice provides services.
In the latest session 12 to 13 year olds from Alde Valley High School in Leiston visited the Hospice, in Foxhall Road, Ipswich, once a week for a month and took part in group activities with current day patients to explore issues such as death, hospice care, bereavement, disability and loss.
The pupils were able to ask the patients any questions about their illness and experiences and taboo subjects were explored openly and with the support of skilled Hospice staff.
The pupils and patients then worked together to express the stories they had heard in a creative way such as through song, artwork or a scrapbook.
The project culminated with the patients and children celebrating their journey at a presentation and party attended by family, school staff, Hospice employees and volunteers.
David Hardy, St Elizabeth Hospice’s Art Therapist who helps runs the project, said: “In society there is a lack of openness about discussing death and dying. The Larch Group aims to dispel myths around the subject, promote awareness and discussion, integrate the Hospice into the community and give young people the right information to prepare them for life experiences.
“Last year we expanded St Elizabeth Hospice services to North Suffolk and South Norfolk, and following the success of the Larch Group with schools in East Suffolk, we wanted to open it up to schools in our extended area.”
Alde Valley High School Pupil Hannah Baggott, year 8, of Leiston, said: “The Larch Group was amazing and one of the best things I have ever done.”
Alde Valley High School, Leiston, teacher Gordana Hills, said: “The Larch Group has really helped broaden the children’s horizons. I think the interaction the students got from these four weeks was the most important part of this. The children are going to go back to school and prepare an assembly to try to raise more money for the Hospice.”
Patient Arthur Ryder, 60, or Ipswich, said: “It was very enjoyable. The children didn’t care about wheelchairs or anything like that; they treated me like one of their own.”
St Elizabeth Hospice is investing £2.2m over three years in services in Waveney and Great Yarmouth, including day services in Beccles, Gorleston and Ditchingham and inpatient beds provided in conjunction with at All Hallows Hospital, Ditchingham.
The Hospice also provides support and therapies at the Louise Hamilton Centre, Gorleston, which is where the local charity will be running its Larch Group.
The project supports the Government’s Every Child Matters initiative to nurture healthy and robust children through education, and recognises that schools are required to cover issues of loss and bereavement in Personal and Social Education but can find this challenging.
The first ever hospice schools project was started by St Christopher’s Hospice in London in 2006. In recent years other hospices have launched their own versions and St Elizabeth Hospice’s Larch Group is the first of its kind in East Anglia.
If your school or college would like to get involved please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01493 690990.