A couple of weeks ago, I woke up with real proper flu.

The kind where you can’t even get out of bed.

It came completely out of the blue and its ferocity took me by surprise.

First world problem, I know, and I’m a bit ashamed that I felt uncharacteristically sorry for myself. It’s amazing just how quickly you can feel separated and out of touch as the world carries on without you. I felt very lonely.

Shock, Fear and Loneliness

Thankfully, for me, this was just a brief unhappy interlude that gave me time for reflection and to think about the families that we work with. This Christmas we estimate there will be over 100,000 children in hospital. Illness really can take us by surprise, at any age. Along with their family members, these children are very likely to be coping with shock, fear, anxiety, exhaustion, and the profound loneliness of being in a different, unfamiliar space while the world really does just carry on around them.

For our founder, Emma Samms, it was the experience of being at her brother Jamie’s hospital bedside that inspired her to set up Starlight. It’s why families are central to all that we do.

Families that Get It

We know from family feedback that parents’ anxiety can be alleviated with simple things, like seeing their sick child meeting and playing with other children.

"He was with lots of other children that had been through tough times whether they were disabled themselves or had long stays in hospitals. Just nice being with families that get it.”

Or sharing their own experience with other parents who understand.

"Sometimes you don't even have to say anything there's just the look in someone's eye and you're like okay I know where you're at, I'm here, what do you need and somehow you can actually ask for it because you know that they know."

But while parents are dealing with the reality and routine of treatment every day, this can be much harder to organise than you might imagine.

Tackling Isolation and Loneliness – New Year, New Pilot

As we look forward to 2024, we are delighted to be piloting a new service “Community Health Play Services” which aims to tackle the isolation and loneliness that families face because of illness and hospitalisation. 

We aim to bring together groups of families for some regularly organised activities and time together, that might not otherwise be possible. This will give them urgently needed fun and distraction as well as support them to develop a network in their own local community. 

Through this support, we’ll also help families develop and maintain the resilience they need to navigate the challenges they face.

To start with, the pilot is in one location, with a small number of families. We will take time to listen and understand what is most important for families and how we might integrate it into existing services and activities to avoid duplication. When we’ve worked out what is most helpful for families, if we have the funds available, we’ll extend the pilot to other locations. We’ll let you know how we get on.

Thank you

The impact of the cost-of-living crisis has made this a tough year for everyone. Every £ counts more than ever, it just doesn’t go quite as far. We continue to carefully think about how we can most meaningfully support families, while we maintain our vital hospital services and advocacy work.

We do appreciate this is a challenging time for many people in many ways and your support is valued more than ever. We can only support children and their families to experience play in hospital because of you.

Thank you so much from the Starlight Team. You really are appreciated and we wish you a Happy Christmas and a wonderful 2024!