The End of Life Care Strategy (DoH 2008) identified the important role that hospices play within health promotion and public education to raise awareness around the issues of death and dying. Prompted by this, Oakhaven Hospice began considering ways to address these topics.
Inspired by St Christopher’s Hospice’s original art project, Oakhaven appointed Jan Tenemos as project coordinator, to lead a team of staff and volunteers in their work. The Acorn Approach has been taken forward by the Jan’s incredible vision and skill, supported by the enthusiasm of the team and further endorsed by the support from Macmillan Cancer Care.
Jan has helped to grow the team in number since its inception; and there is consistent evidence of how the team work together interdependently and cooperatively to achieve their goals.
The coming together of hospice and schools means that pupils, teachers, patients, carers, hospice staff and volunteers function as a team, to produce tangible and creative outcomes.
Bespoke projects are created for schools to support and underpin work on the National Curriculum, while also exploring and addressing the myths and fears surrounding death, dying and bereavement. Children and patients form strong bonds and we witness a mutual exchange of wisdom, empathy and friendship. Patients feel validated by their experiences as important members of the Acorn team. Projects are reviewed and evaluated – these outputs are then used to inform future projects.
There are times of sadness and poignancy but the focus is on fun and the hospice is filled with laughter. There is a fantastic ‘ripple effect’ surrounding this work as children go home to their families and share what they have learnt. Acorn supports children and patients alike and is proof that the whole is more than the sum of its parts! At Oakhaven they are proud of all that Acorn has achieved.
Loss and transition are part of the National Curriculum, subjects that many schools find difficult to teach. Three years ago, inspired by St Christopher’s Hospice’s pioneering work with schools in their community, Jan Temenos looked at how Oakhaven might similarly develop links between the hospice and local schools. In working with children, it was envisioned that the work would be far reaching, that through their words would filter out through their schools, families and into the wider community, promoting a good understanding of palliative care by encouraging thought and discussion around death and dying.
This concept developed into the Acorn Approach which encompasses a series of educational projects and activities involving pupils and teachers, patients and carers, hospice staff and volunteers all working together at the hospice to produce tangible and creative outcomes. Each project offers an opportunity for those involved to have valuable discussions around death and dying within the context of the chosen project and, as a result, to learn more about the hospice through the freshness that the children bring. As an added bonus it also allows patients and carers a forum to talk about their experiences and air difficult feelings in a safe and supportive environment.
This innovative service has thrived and developed thanks to the incredible vision, enthusiasm and skill of Jan and the amazing support of the wider team – both paid and volunteer staff, patients, teachers and children. It is a perfect example of true synergy, with the whole service being so much more than the sum of its parts.
By developing connections between the hospice and local schools, inviting honest and open dialogue and discussion, the approach aims to address myths and fears, to raise awareness about death and dying, and to promote a healthier understanding of palliative care and the services that the hospice offers.
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