A groundbreaking project to tackle taboos around death with Suffolk schoolchildren has been launched by St Elizabeth Hospice.
The Hospice, which provides specialist palliative care for people in the county living life with a progressive illness and support for their families, has teamed up with Cedarwood Primary School in Kesgrave for the first project of its kind in East Anglia.
Year six children, aged ten and 11, have been visiting the Hospice, in Foxhall Road, Ipswich, once a week for a month and taking part in group activities with current patients to explore issues such as death, hospice care, bereavement, disability and loss.
The pupils have been able to ask the patients any questions about their illness and experiences and taboo subjects are explored openly and with the support of skilled Hospice staff.
The pupils and patients then worked together to express the stories they have heard in a creative way such as through song, artwork or a scrapbook.
The initiative – called the Larch Project – culminated in the patients and children celebrating their journey at a presentation and party attended by family, school staff, Hospice employees and volunteers. The project will be rolled out to other schools and colleges in the New Year.
Helen Finlinson, of St Elizabeth Hospice, said: “In society there is a lack of openness about discussing death and dying. The Larch Project 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.
“The patients have found it very therapeutic and have enjoyed interacting with a younger generation. It has helped their self-esteem and sense of purpose and in some cases made them think about the amount of information they share about their illness with their families.”
Day care patient Angela Bennett, 53, of Ipswich, used to work with children but had to give it up when she became ill. She said: “I think this project is a good idea for children of all ages and I hope it makes future generations feel more comfortable talking about these issues. I used to work in schools but had to give it up and missed it so much so this has really helped me.”
Pupil Nikita Gladding said: “It’s been really good and we have talked a lot and got to help the patients and learn a lot from them.”
Cedarwood Primary School teacher Mel Youngs said: “Initially we were not sure how the children would respond and deal with the issue but they have been brilliant and really enjoyed working with the patients. They have got so much out of it, they have grown in confidence, learnt about others and dealt with some difficult issues. Death is a fact of life and we hope they will be less afraid to talk about it.”
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. It was funded by an anonymous donation and the Hospice hopes to apply for further funding to pay for the project in the long term. The work can be tailored to children aged five upwards and there is already a waiting list of schools interested.
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 Project 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 01473 707014.