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Girlguiding unit makes a difference in Belfast hospital

Girlguiding unit makes a difference in Belfast hospital

31st August 2016

Girlguiding hospital units give young people the opportunity to benefit from the experiences of guiding when they’re unwell and unable to attend regular meetings. It also offers them a chance to engage in fun activities, do something for themselves and have a link with the outside world during a hard time in their lives.

Thanks to UYSAF funding from Youth United Foundation, Girlguiding opened a group for young people at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children (RBHSC). The group first opened during summer 2015 and has run this year over the Easter and summer holidays.

The group is run by four experienced volunteers who work with children aged 4 to 14 on the wards. The volunteers are accompanied by play specialists from the hospital and work with the children one on one, adapting activities for the needs and age of each child. Some of the children they work with are very unwell and can tire easily or are using certain medical equipment so this is taken into consideration and the ongoing support and encouragement of the play specialists at the hospital has been a key factor to the unit’s success. 

The activities undertaken with the young people include tasks such making masks and windmills as well as creating towers out of marshmallows and pasta.

Parents really enjoy sharing pictures of their child’s creations with other family members including siblings and grandparents who may not be able to visit and the children also receive a badge and certificate for taking part.

Having a Girlguiding volunteer undertake sessions also provides parents with some respite time where they can grab some food or take some time to themselves.

Over the time the unit has been running, over 50 children have been involved and some have gone on to join weekly Girlguiding units outside of hospital when they have been well enough.

Girlguiding Development Worker Wendy Houston, who helped set up the unit, said:

“We first came up with the idea of starting a hospital unit when we heard about another Girlguiding group who had done something similar. We contacted the hospital and met with one of the play specialists to discuss the activities and programme we had in mind. They were enthusiastic about the idea and we went from there. It’s been great working with the hospital and we are indebted to the play specialists for their ongoing support and enthusiasm.

“Helping with the unit is a pleasure and it’s really lovely so see the excitement on the children’s faces when you visit them. It feels really rewarding to be able to help young people and their families and offer some light relief during tough times.”

Maureen Swinton, who volunteers at the hospital unit, said:

“I volunteer with Girlguiding as I really enjoy working with young people and bringing some brightness into the days of those in hospital and seeing them smile is wonderful. The parents are really glad to see us and I feel the work we do really does make a difference.”

Jenne McDonald, Play Development Coordinator at the hospital, said: 

“Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children has enjoyed the input from the Girlguiding unit. We know the hospital situation is very different from any other, as very little can be planned and ages and numbers can change constantly - we have appreciated the adaptability of the Leaders to cope with this situation.

“We are aware that the visits by the Girlguiding volunteers have encouraged our patients to think about joining the organisation or have brought someone ‘familiar’ in to visit. We look forward to continuing with Wendy and the team in the future and also developing links with Girlguiding to create a focus group for children’s opinions with regard to the planning of the new Children’s Hospital, ready in 2022.”

Written by Charlotte Kelloway, PR Officer, Girlguiding