It can happen to anyone. Don’t take a service like this for granted.

When Sue Cartwright worked for us she knew just how impactful given a family a place to stay was. Years later, her own nephew was given a 'Home from Home' when his son Jack needed treatment in Leeds Children's Hospital

I started working for The Sick Children’s Trust when I was 45. It was 2001 when I came across the advert in the newspaper on my Friday lunch break. It said that the charity gave families with children at Sheffield Children’s Hospital a free place to stay nearby at its ‘Home from Home’ Treetop House, which was on the top floor of the hospital. My friend read it out to me and the mention of Sheffield Children’s caught my attention as I’d spent a lot of time there with my son, Russ, and like most Sheffielders I knew how lucky we were to have this great hospital in our city.

Reading the ad several times I just thought how amazing it would be particularly as when Russ was an inpatient in the ‘70s I had to go home when the night shift came on duty and leave my 13 month old baby. There was just a hard chair to sit on and the shop to get drinks and snacks. I just felt it was where I should work and I certainly never looked back.

16 years passed by and I went from managing Treetop House to opening Magnolia House which is on Northumberland Road, yet attached to the hospital. I then became the Operations Manager for the North – managing our five Northern houses in Newcastle, Leeds and Sheffield. I loved this job. My family knew all about it and saw the importance of its work. My sister Elaine and her husband John visited Eckersley House when it relocated to Leeds General Infirmary from St James’, they were so taken aback by the amazing work it did that Elaine started making little knitted chicks and stockings to help raise a bit of money for the ‘Home from Home’. My family would always sponsor me for races I took on and would support anything I asked for.

“Over my time working for the charity thousands of families have had their lives turned upside down, just like Jim’s and are immersed in a world of uncertainty. There is no reason why you would ever think of your child becoming seriously ill but I’ve seen first-hand just how often that does happen.”

It became a family affair all those years ago and continues to be.

Mentioning Eckersley House to my nephew Jim when his son, Jack, needed treatment at Leeds, then getting in touch seemed like a small thing for me to do in such a family crisis. Having knowledge of The Sick Children’s Trust and knowing how valued our accommodation is by parents it was my first thought of how I could help.

The Sick Children’s Trust gave Jim and Jack’s mum Nikki great reassurance and alleviated one worry. For my sister, Elaine, it meant so much knowing that both Jim and Nikki were being supported by Jane and team at Eckersley House as well as Jack being so well looked after on the ward.

Over my time working for the charity thousands of families have had their lives turned upside down, just like Jim’s and are immersed in a world of uncertainty. There is no reason why you would ever think of your child becoming seriously ill but I’ve seen first-hand just how often that does happen. The Sick Children’s Trust is a hidden but very important gem in England. It is there for families, keeping them together during an extremely challenging and uncertain time to help take some of the stress away from parents.

If you can spare anything for The Sick Children’s Trust, I urge you to do so. It costs £30 to support a family for one night with a place to stay, allowing them to stay together.

(Sue Cartwright, The Sick Children’s Trust 2001 – 2017)

“I didn’t want to go into hospital and was scared about what would happen to me, but once I was there and we knew what the treatment would be, I felt better. Leeds hospital is very big when you first see it. I saw quite a lot of it going for my scans. Ward L33 was really good. The nurses and doctors were really nice and friendly. I enjoyed playing on the PlayStation and doing different activities with Cat on the ward, which helped pass the time during my treatment. It was good to see my mum when I’d been in a few nights with my dad, and also my dad when my mum had stayed with me because only one could be on the ward at once. I’d just like to say to the staff at Eckersley House thank you for providing somewhere for my mum and dad to stay whilst I was in hospital as we live far away. It would have been really hard for them, driving backwards and forwards. We’re very thankful.” Jack Carr, 13 years old

Neither of us wanted the other to be alone in a city away from friends and family, or for the other to be at home away from us.

I’m Jim, Sue’s nephew. Sue is my mother’s sister, and we are very close and my son Jack also holds a very special place in Sue’s heart.

Jack is a lively 13 year old, who is very loving and thoughtful. He loves music and is always singing (not always in tune!). He’s an avid Sheffield Wednesday fan and enjoys going to the matches and he also enjoys playing football for his local team, swimming and cycling.

In July this year – as the country started to emerge from phase one of lockdown – Jack started feeling lethargic and his body was aching, then his face and neck started to swell. At this point we contacted our GP who said it was nothing to worry about and probably a glandular infection. A few days later he woke in the night unable to breathe. At this, we rang 999 and he was rushed to Hull Royal Infirmary. They did a chest X-ray there and I was asked if my partner Nikki was able to come to the hospital as well as they had found something on his chest. They said they thought it was some kind of lymphoma, and that he needed to be transferred to Leeds ASAP.

“We were in disbelief, felt sick, anxious and numb. You don’t ever think that your child will have cancer. At this point all that was in our heads was Jack and what the future held for him. Whether we could stay with Jack didn’t really enter our heads.”

As we made our way to Leeds and Jack underwent tests, my mum, Elaine, told Sue what was happening. Sue told us about Eckersley House which is just a few minutes’ walk away from the hospital and our names were already on the waiting list for a room.

Jack was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after a series of biopsies, lumber punctures and tests. We were told the predicted timescale of his treatment plan was four months and were made aware of the effects of the treatment, i.e. Jack losing his hair, his mouth being really sore after each cycle of chemotherapy and also his mood swings!

The coronavirus restrictions meant that only one of us could stay on the ward with Jack so on the first night I was looking into hotels in Leeds where one of us would be able to stay. It was daunting to see just how much it would cost us to be there by our son’s side as he started his cancer treatment. Neither of us wanted the other to be alone in a city away from friends and family, or for the other to be at home away from us.

When Sue told us about Eckersley House, it was one less thing to worry about. I think without Eckersley House we would have struggled, both mentally and financially. The next day we were handed keys to a room and it became our ‘Home from Home’ for three weeks. It was just reassuring to know we didn’t have to cross that bridge, because of the help we received. I would encourage anybody to think about just how much that means. To put yourself in our shoes and think about the reality of it.

“Having a place to stay at Eckersley House helped us no end. It was great to be so close to the ward, even though with COVID we were only allowed to be there one at a time. Just knowing that when we swapped over that we didn’t have the drive home alone to contend with and we could just return to the sanctuary of Eckersley House, which had everything we could have wanted, was such a relief.”

Don’t think something like this only happens to other families. It doesn’t! That’s how I used to think, but I don’t anymore. It can happen to anyone, and it did. Having The Sick Children’s Trust’s ‘Home from Home’ isn’t to be taken for granted, as without people supporting its work it might not be there when you or your loved ones need it.

Fortunately, Jack’s treatment is going very well. His latest biopsy results look promising. He’s really good in himself and seems to be fending off infections really well. As he now is spending more time at home than in Leeds we no longer use Eckersley House, but we will be forever grateful for what they’ve done for both myself and my family.

Jim Carr, Jack’s dad


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