−−− BY LINZI DAVIES −−−

Our feature this month is celebrating 25 years of the wonderful resource that is Eckersley House. This ‘home from home’ at Leeds Children’s Hospital run by The Sick Children’s Trust provides somewhere for families to stay when they have had to travel to Leeds for a child to receive specialist care. As well as being a physical roof over their heads during what is a very stressful time, the incredible staff team also provide families with emotional support in a warm and friendly setting just minutes from their child’s bedside. The son of the local Yorkshire businessman who founded Eckersley House, is encouraging the community to join in with celebrating the house supporting over 11,000 families so far at this important milestone.

Mark Eckersley, 60, from Dore, Sheffield, is the son of Robert ‘Bob’ Eckersley, who passed away from cancer. In his legacy Bob wanted to ensure that families with seriously ill children undergoing hospital treatment far away from home didn’t have to leave their loved one’s hospital bedside. Tragically, he experienced these difficulties when his eldest son, Guy, passed away at just 12 years old, having spent a prolonged period in hospital. Years later, Bob’s stepson, Simon, was admitted to Leeds for lifesaving treatment which meant he and his family had to travel miles to be with him. As a result, Eckersley House was founded by Bob’s family in his name following his passing.

The ‘Home from Home’ was originally located at St James’s University Hospital but has been based at Leeds General Infirmary since 2010. Mark, who, along with his wife, Mie, continues to be involved with Eckersley House, says:

“Eckersley House has grown and prospered since it first opened, and we hope it will continue to for many more years to come. Before my father died, he made it very clear that in his legacy he wanted a place to be developed that would relieve the stress and worries, which he knew came with having a seriously ill child in hospital.

“Eckersley House has carried out my father’s wishes – to have an impact on sick children’s lives by giving parents and families the ability to stay close to their loved ones. I’ve met families who sleep on the floor next to their child’s hospital bedside, or on a chair in a waiting room, and have dealt with this situation for many months and travelled hundreds of miles to be with their child every day. Eckersley House means they don’t have to. Parents have a space away from the wards where there’s a comforting, relaxed atmosphere in a safe environment just minutes from their child’s bedside, as well as people they can talk to, a shoulder to cry on or just someone to enjoy a cup of tea with.”

Eckersley House has 22 family bedrooms, eight bathrooms, three fully equipped kitchens and communal areas, three playrooms, three shared living rooms and laundry facilities. It also has a self-contained flat for when a child is recovering from a liver transplant and within all rooms there is a direct telephone line to the ward. Although the accommodation is provided free to families, The Sick Children’s Trust relies entirely on voluntary donations to support around 4,000 families across its ‘Homes from Home’ every year.

Mark continues:

“Our children are ten and eight now and are really starting to understand what Eckersley House is and why this was so important to their grandfather – they’ve even been fundraising at school! As a family, we are very dedicated to Eckersley House. We will always be eternally grateful to The Sick Children’s Trust for running Eckersley House over the last 25 years and supporting over 11,000 families with children from birth to 18 years old undergoing lifesaving treatment at Leeds Children’s Hospital.

“For many families who find themselves at Eckersley House, they leave with a piece of it in their hearts because of what it has done for them. The house doesn’t just keep them close to their loved ones and alleviate financial pressures, but the families who stay there receive emotional and practical support from an empathetic and highly trained team of people, who have dedicated their lives to a cause that means a family can focus completely on their sick child.

“We hope Eckersley House will go on to support many more families in the years to come. The last 25 years have had a huge impact on so many families, who would’ve ended up sleeping in a chair or on the floor beside their loved ones or travelling miles upon miles to be with them every single day.”

One such family that Eckersley House recently helped is the Whittaker family who have only just returned to their home in Nottingham. William age 13 was diagnosed with aplastic anaemia – a rare disease which stops the body from producing enough blood cells, following a routine visit to the GP for a rash. Blood tests revealed the condition and it was apparent that William would need a bone marrow transplant. Luckily his older sister Rebecca age 18 was a 100% match and agreed to be his donor. Specialists at Nottingham University Hospital referred William to Leeds Children’s Hospital for the transplant and Eckersley House was able to provide the family with a room for the duration of his stay at Leeds.

Mum Yvonne says “I can’t tell you the relief it gave us when we realised we would have a base in Leeds. It isn’t just the financial cost, but the emotional ease of never being more than a few minutes from your child’s side. It was also beneficial that Rebecca could stay with us at the house. She was understandably very anxious prior to the procedure to collect the stem cells for William, and she needed a few days to recover from the anaesthetic and everything afterwards. It was good to be able to keep her close during those few days and not have to worry about her being at home on her own.

“We are thankfully now back home with William although we still have to take him to hospital in Nottingham every day to receive fluids and the care that he needs. He is continuing to improve all the time. Our fingers are crossed that he will make a full recovery and that will be the end of this awful time. William is a keen sportsman and can’t wait to return to his teammates.”

Jane McHale, Eckersley House Manager, says:

“From everyone at The Sick Children’s Trust and on behalf of all the families we support, we’d like to say a huge thank you to all of Bob’s family for founding Eckersley House. Over the years, Eckersley House has been there for thousands of families whose lives get thrown into complete turmoil when their child is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness or involved in a serious accident, and we hope it will continue to be there for even more families in the coming years.

“Having initially joined Eckersley House as Assistant Manager, I took on the House Manager role in 2005. I love my job. As a mum myself, it is fantastic to know I am supporting families everyday who are not only coping with having a seriously ill child, but often travelling a long way from home to the hospital and having nowhere to go. We provide a home from home for the families to stay in free of charge so that they don’t have the added financial pressure of hotel bills or travel costs, and the peace of mind that they are close by if they are needed.

“Every day is different, but the staff team all work incredibly hard, supporting families and welcoming them in, turning rooms around and cleaning. Not to mention all the paperwork involved! We are always around to have a chat should someone need a shoulder to cry on.”

The Sick Children’s Trust runs ten ‘Homes from Home’ across the country, three of which are based in Yorkshire. Alongside Eckersley House, the charity has two ‘Homes from Home’ supporting families at Sheffield Children’s Hospital – Treetop and Magnolia Houses.

The Sick Children’s Trust are holding a Pyjama Party to raise money this month so why not join in and raise vital funds so that they can continue to help more families? From Monday 15 to Friday 19 October they’re asking nurseries, schools and workplaces to organise a fun-filled day and fundraise for The Sick Children’s Trust! Pop on your favourite pair of pyjamas or onesie and join in. By taking part this year, you’ll be helping around 4,000 families with a sick child in hospital. To find out how you can get involved, or to request a Pyjama Party pack please call 020 7638 4066 or email pyjamaparty@sickchildrenstrust.org.

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