Blog | Scouting on the wards
Thanks to Scouts, young people at Great Ormond Street Hospital are able to experience fun, friendship and support at a time when they need it the most.
‘Right, let's go and round up some young people!' exclaims Chris, a leader from 17th Holborn Scouts and Guides after helping to rearrange the activity center for the evening session at Great Ormond Street Hospital, London.
Leaders have been doing the rounds since the Scout and Guide hospital Group first opened in 1957 and for the young people who are not already part of the Scouting and Guiding Movement it can take a bit of coaxing to get them off the ward and into the session. Chris explains: 'The kids can be here for observations; where the doctors see if there is something wrong. They can be here for days and there's only so much TV a child can watch before getting really bored. Scouting and Guiding gives them a reason to leave the ward.'
A flexible approach
The coming together of Scouts and Guides is part of the reason why 17th Holborn is so unique. The partnership works well for the hospital, due to the fact that the young people who attend are not regulars and will come back to the hospital every few months. 'We don't follow the formal Programme because only about 10% of people who come are Scouts and the rest are not,' says Chris. 'At the moment we tend to take a mix of Scouting and Guiding programme each week as it makes for an interesting mix!'
'You can never really tell from week to week what age group we're going to get,' says Chris. 'If there are enough of us leaders and we find that we have young people that are older, we will sometimes split them up'.
Doing the rounds
Starting from the top floor, the Sky Ward, Chris works his way through the hospital asking nurses on every ward for young people who would like to join the Group for the evening. On an average night they can get six or seven young people involved, other nights can be quieter. 'Sometimes they don't get let off the ward,' explains, Chris. 'For example, if they have had a blood transfusion, then it's not a good time for them to leave. If they are on drips then they can sometimes come down. We have to play it by ear really.'
A little patience
While wandering the wards this evening, Chris meets a Scout called Cathal from Ireland who has been eagerly waiting for the session to start. 'He's another one who comes maybe once or twice a year,' says Scout Leader Andrew. 'I think he has been on camp several times at home - he seems to have gotten taller awfully quickly!'
Andrew started volunteering at the Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) Group as a teenager while he was visiting his younger brother who was a patient at the time. 'A lot of people get in touch with us because they are thinking of setting up a hospital Group themselves.
Some of them have been quite successful and some we don't hear from again. I think the most recent was Evelina London Children's Hospital. When you're setting up a hospital Group, you have to be quite patient and persistent'.
Just a regular meeting
On this Tuesday evening the young people are making stop-motion videos. The eldest in the room is 12-year-old Elis from Loughton, east London; it happens to be her first night at the GOSH Group, but she is also a Guide in her local Unit.
Her stop-motion film is about a pig that gets lost and can't find its way home. 'I enjoy being a Guide. I'm one of the older ones there, so it's nice to help people and help them get the experience and become better people.'
When looking at Elis it's not obvious she is a patient; the same goes for Louie who is the youngest of the Group. 'It doesn't usually matter what treatment they are having,' says Andrew. 'We don't need to ask so we don't. The nurses tell us things that we need to know, apart from that we don't ask anything about their condition.'
The leaders here are great at being flexible and supportive around the different needs of the young people, but there are times when they are faced with young people who are terminally ill and those times can be heartbreaking. 'It can be hard when you find out that a young person has passed away,' says Andrew. 'It depends on how well you've got to know them. Unfortunately that's something you have to expect.'
A place of happiness
In a place that can be very sad, joy and fun can be found at 17th Holbom. There are some young people who experience Scouting and Guiding for the first time in the hospital and go on to join Groups in their local area.
'Because they have experienced it with us, when they go into the environment of another Scout Group they are better prepared for it,' says Chris. 'There was a girl who we saw for a long time and we saw get progressively better. We like to think that coming down to us really helped her because it felt like home here. For her it was a home from home that she could relate to and that's why we do it: it is fun for the kids and it is fun for us.
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