The tree on the wall outside the door alerts you to the fact that this is not a medical facility you are about to enter.
It appears to grow from the top of a large image of the ’real’ fairy bridge in Kewaigue and its leaves are inscribed with the names of the many people and organisations who have contributed to the building and equipping of what they call ’The BtG Pod’.
Inside, it is a beautifully designed building that stands apart from the main hospital in its own small courtyard garden.
It is filled with all the things that would help a teenager or young adult to take a break from being on a ward and just enjoy being their age: a TV with Play Station 4, crafts and games, guitars, tea and coffee making facilities and big comfy sofas. It opens into a beautifully designed courtyard with unique seating and a water fountain.
It is based on similar facilities provided by the Teenage Cancer Trust in the UK who have long recognised that seriously ill patients in this age group need their own, designated space.
Fiona Barker learned this herself seven years ago when her 15-year-old son, Ross, was diagnosed with cancer.
She recalls: ’We had exceptional care and support at Noble’s but anyone who’s ever visited the children’s ward will know that it is more suited to a baby or younger child than to a young man of 6’ 2".’
Young patients like Ross will typically receive cancer treatment in the UK, at Alder Hey or the Christie Hospital in Manchester. This is also often the case for young patients with other complex medical conditions, leaving them quite isolated when back home on the island.
Fiona says: ’In between treatments Ross frequently needed to be admitted to Noble’s and as he was diagnosed at 15 we received amazing care from Dr Van Der Merwe and his team on the children’s ward. Ross was always given a side room off the children’s ward where I could stay and family members could visit as often as they wanted.’
Although the ’official’ age for a young person to be moved from the children’s ward into an adult ward is 16, Ross was allowed to stay beyond that, something that Fiona will be forever grateful for.
As she says: ’At the age of 16 you don’t suddenly become an adult.’
Tragically, Ross passed away in 2013, when he was just 18.
Looking back, Fiona says: ’While Ross was ill, I was always so grateful for the support of our tight knit family and friends, and I’m very much aware that not every young person with a complex medical condition such as cancer is so lucky.’
While Ross was having his treatments in the UK, Fiona also got the chance to see at close hand the work of the Teenage Cancer Trust, which provides 28 dedicated units in major hospitals around the country for cancer patients aged from 14 - 24. These units include a ’den’ where the young people are encouraged to spend time whenever possible, to have the chance to chill out away from the main ward. This is the purpose of the BtG Pod at Noble’s but will also be for the use of other young patients with other complex or long term medical conditions, not just cancer patients.
Through discussions with one UK family going through similar circumstances Fiona also became aware of the huge benefits a youth worker could have in the hospital environment. This family often spoke of Charlie Price, the youth worker assigned to their son’s case. Charlie is from the ’Inspire Youth Service ’ in Wrexham and it was clear how vital Charlie’s friendship and support had been.
In 2014 Fiona, along with her family and friends, set up a new charity, Bridge the Gap in memory of Ross. Its purpose is to improve facilities and support for teenagers and young adults with complex, chronic and life threatening medical conditions as they make the transition from paediatric to adult care. A major element of this project is to fund the services of a hospital based youth worker who will be available to meet either at the BtG Pod or in wards as needed.
Fiona says: ’We are so grateful to the many individuals, organisations and businesses that helped to raise the money and donated items for the BtG Pod: the larger contributors can be seen on the "thank you" tree.’
She also singles out the Scheinberg family for their donations towards both the building of the Pod and also to the costs of employing the youth worker for the next three years.
’It was their generosity which gave our small charity the confidence to move forward with this and to be able to provide such an amazing place,’ she says.
The BtG Pod was officially opened on Friday November 9 by Buddy, a miniature Shetland pony, nibbling through a carrot suspended on ribbons across the entrance to the courtyard. Fiona says the idea of this was to signify that little things can make a big difference.
Charlie Price, the inspiration behind the BtG Hospital Based Youth Worker Project was also able to attend the opening and made presentations to staff about the benefits of youth work within the hospital environment.
Links have been made with Teenage Cancer Trust, who have donated one of their signature jukeboxes which takes pride of place in the BtG Pod and the youth worker who has been appointed to work there will join the next intake of Teenage Cancer Trust youth worker training.
Fiona says: ’Through our partnership with the departments of Health and Education, BtG are part of the steering group, which will ensure that the BtG Pod and youth support keep on track to help those for which it is intended.
She adds: ’With one donation came a message from someone who really understood our vision. They said: "Brilliant initiative for a group of young people often forgotten and not well understood, keep going".’
While nothing can change the past, Fiona is doing her best to focus on those young people who can be helped in the future.
She says: ’I cannot thank everyone enough for helping us to create this wonderful project, which is such a fitting legacy to Ross.’