New nurses and support workers bring hope for respite breaks at Bluebell Wood children's hospice

LOVE and laughter have long been Bluebell Wood’s buzzwords but there’s currently another which is key to the children’s hospice’s future — recruitment.

Last year saw a six-month temporary suspension of clinical services and the charity is still unable to offer youngsters end-of-life care at its North Anston base.

But eight new nurses and support workers have joined since September — allowing overnight respite breaks to resume — and 11 more roles are currently being recruited.

“That’s our number one target at the moment,” said Heidi Hawkins, who took over as the charity’s chief executive two months ago.

“This is a brilliant place to work. The challenges that we face in bringing in staff are not unique to us. All hospices are struggling with staffing.

“We are really looking at all different ways to recruit more staff. We want to nurture our own team.

“They provide safety, comfort and continuity for families. I can’t imagine what it must be like to entrust your child with a team of people.

“That makes it really crucial that we have that nurturing nature and compassionate nature in our team.”

The six-month step-down allowed Bluebell Wood time to refresh its rooms — decorating with an autism-friendly colour palette and adding new lighting and sound systems in children’s rooms.

Other services continued in the meantime, including sibling support, bereavement support and home visits.

Heidi said: “The siblings group have been doing pottery over Easter, they recently went to Yorkshire Wildlife Park, and that sort of thing has been going on during the temporary suspension.”

The previous target was to reopen before the end of 2022.

Key to the next step is the retention of staff recruited from what is a relatively small pool of talent, and whose background could be in completely different settings such as hospital wards or intensive care units.

Meanwhile, wellbeing champions — essentially mental health first-aiders — are being introduced to support the team emotionally.

“We look at our employment terms and conditions, we have staff satisfaction surveys,” added Heidi.

“All our staff are able to access clinical supervision, they have team meetings, one-to-ones with line managers.

“There’s nothing that can’t be talked about in absolutely all of those emotional times.

“For our recent recruitment, we had open sessions where you could come and speak to staff and see the building, to feel what this workplace is like for them.”

A children’s hospice is far from simply a place where children pass away. The help can begin at pre-natal stage, while new drugs help kids with life-shortening conditions live much longer.

Some 300 families — from South Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire — are currently supported and there are youngsters who have been helped since Bluebell Wood opened 15 years ago.

Heidi belonged to the charity’s retail section for six years from 2007.

She credits then chief executive Sarah Champion — now Rotherham MP — for encouraging her to become a CEO.

Heidi amassed ten years’ experience elsewhere and returned to North Anston in March from Beaumond House, an adult hospice in Newark. Ironically, the retail has mostly disappeared as Bluebell Wood closed its charity shops in September 2021.

“I can appreciate what a difficult decision that was,” said Heidi. “A lot has changed in retail.

“After the pandemic, people weren’t bringing as many clothes in and donations weren’t as good quality.

“So the money shops were bringing in went down, but the rent bills stayed the same.

“Our fundraising teams work incredibly hard. They’re creative people continuously looking for new opportunities.

“The economic situation at the moment is challenging but they are very driven.”

The support from fundraisers and volunteers continues in other ways.

For example, springtime brings better weather and the return of corporate teams arriving to help spruce up the charity’s peaceful six-acre site nestled between Dinnington Community Woodland and the North Anston Trading Estate.

Painting and weeding are among the jobs near the top of the post-winter to-do list.

“There’s something very special about this place,” Heidi said of her return. “I kept an eye on what’s been happening.

“It’s a lovely but bizarre feeling to be back. It’s so familiar but yet a lot has changed.

“There’s staff everywhere upstairs now, where before a lot of that space was just used for storage.

“But the ethos is still the same; the motto is still ‘living with love and laughter’.”