The people we met left a lasting impact

The Wood family were one of the first to be supported by our 'Homes from Home' 40 years ago. Read how Rainbow House made a difference to them.

“When I was asked to write this, my initial thought was that I didn’t have anything to say: I suppose that’s the point. The fact that I feel that I had a ‘normal’ hospital experience is a testimony of the wonderful facilities that The Sick Children’s Trust provides for the parents of sick children. I knew that my parents were never far away, and I never worried about the amount of travelling they had to do. I remember that my mum and dad had this supportive network of people ‘behind the scenes’. Whenever we dropped by to see The Sick Children’s Trust family, I was always struck by how happy they were to see each other which made me very happy because I knew that they always had people to look after them too.” Lorna, Alex and Sheila’s daughter

Alex: I so admire my wife Sheila for her consistent support towards The Sick Children’s Trust. She has never forgotten what the charity did for her. From the moment she walked through the doors to Rainbow House as a mum to a seriously ill child, and as a daughter who had just lost her own mother, she was welcomed in and treated like a friend. That was nearly 40 years ago.

Our youngest daughter, Lorna, was born in 1981. She was born with a complex condition which meant she spent much of her early years at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) in London, many miles away from our home in Northampton.

At six weeks old, Lorna underwent major surgery in GOSH. It wasn’t practical or feasible for both myself and Sheila to stay in London with Lorna as there wasn’t anywhere to stay which we could afford and travelling wasn’t an option. We also needed to be there for our eldest daughter, Louise. For six weeks, Sheila slept on a pull-out bed in Lorna’s room which was a relief as she could continue to breastfeed and be with our daughter. However, the constant banging, clashing and long walks to the shower eventually would take its toll.

We knew that it was likely that Lorna would need ongoing treatment and major surgeries throughout her childhood. It was difficult on many levels. We missed being together as a family and having the support of each other. It was hard knowing that Sheila was sleeping in makeshift rooms in the hospital and exhausting herself in the hospital. Three years later, with another impending surgery for Lorna on the horizon, I was concerned for Sheila and her wellbeing. Sheila was looking at a three week stay in London, with nowhere to stay, and all I wanted was for any extra stress to be taken away.

“I was nervous going to London. I didn’t know London or anyone living there so it felt daunting. From the moment I walked into Rainbow House I felt at home. Meeting the House Manager, Pat, was like meeting my mum. She took me in and looked after me. I needed a caring friend to confide in and that’s what I found at The Sick Children’s Trust.” Sheila.

It was at this point our journey began with The Sick Children’s Trust, which we were introduced to by Sister Allen on the ward. Sheila was impressed by the facilities and especially impressed by Pat, the House Manager who was very kind. Sheila’s mother had died just a month before and she was not feeling at her best. One of the hallmarks of The Sick Children’s Trust is that the staff care about you. Being able to go to Rainbow House, which was homely and warm really made a difference. It wasn’t just a nice place to stay, there was someone there to put an arm around you and chat to. Or there was simply a room where you could shed a few tears.

For years to come, Sheila would stay at the charity’s ‘Homes from Home’ on a few occasions. Not only that, but she became an integral part of keeping families together with their sick child in hospital.

Sheila: One day, I was sat with Pat and she mentioned that the charity was looking for someone to join a committee to help fundraise, so that the charity could continue to help more families stay together. I was happy to help and did what I could through my daughters’ school. I was invited to join the committee and share my experience and fundraising. They were all very nice but I did feel like a fish out of water. I was told that without people like me, the charity wouldn’t be able to do what they did. I would meet the committee four or five times a year and they became almost a second family.

I knew how much the money we were raising was making a difference because I had been there. Having a place to go to, which was quiet and away from the noise of the hospital wards, that was just around the corner gave peace of mind.

“As an ‘ordinary mum’ she became a member of the charity and I don’t think she has ever forgotten that. And the President, Michael Crawford – such a nice man – he met Shelia, Louise and Lorna and he just wanted to talk. He had to be reminded (more than once) that he was due to be at Heathrow for a transatlantic flight!” Alex

There have been lots of things over the years that I’ve been involved with, from pancake races to sewing clothes for donations. Alex has completed a 30 mile walk and hosts regular historic talks with money donated to The Sick Children’s Trust. Lorna and her friends even did a production of ‘You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown’ to celebrate her 21st birthday.

Every little bit of money counts and I always think that’s just how I can help someone else as I believe what goes around comes around. The Sick Children’s Trust is a charity that needs that money, it needs that help. I will always think of the support the charity gave me, so the more people we can tell about it, the more we will. Our whole village is very aware of its ‘Homes from Home’.

This year it is our 50th wedding anniversary, Lorna is 40 years old and The Sick Children’s Trust is too so we are throwing a garden party to celebrate and raise a bit of money. We have set ourselves a goal of raising £40 a month, which will give a family with a seriously ill child a place to stay. Somewhere close by, with support from other families and house staff, and a place they can get a good night’s sleep.

We want to raise money because the charity has given us so much. It doesn’t take over, but we raise what we can when we can. Lorna herself is raising money too. She says she has chosen to support the charity because it’s my charity.

When someone has helped you in the way The Sick Children’s Trust helped me, it’s a not something you can forget.

Sheila and Alex Wood, one of the first families to stay at our ‘Homes from Home’.

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