Story Continues for Young Cancer Patients at Great North Children's Hospital

Published Date: 12th October 2016

A special storytelling project which helps young cancer patients during their treatment at the Great North Children's Hospital is set to be extended after the charity behind it secured a four-figure grant from Newcastle Building Society.

The Henry Dancer Days charity set up regular story-telling sessions in the paediatric oncology unit at the Hospital last year, with professional actress Shelley O'Brien working with patients on a one-to-one basis to tell and create the sorts of stories they wanted to hear.

The sessions were designed to both provide a welcome distraction for the children during what can be very difficult treatments while also giving parents and carers a little time and space for themselves.

The initiative has proved extremely successful, with the Henry Dancer Days team receiving very positive feedback from patients, parents and hospital staff alike.

And now, after being put forward for a grant by Morpeth branch customer Jane Nattrass, a £1,500 donation from Newcastle Building Society will allow for additional story-telling sessions to be held later this year.

The funding has been provided from the new Newcastle Building Society Community Fund, which has been set up to provide an ongoing source of financial support for charities and community groups that are located in or around the communities served by the Society's 27-strong branch network, and put forward for support by its customers.

Henry Dancer Days was originally set up in memory of Morpeth boy Henry Dancer, who passed away in 2011 at the age of 12 from osteosarcoma, the most common type of bone cancer, and the sixth most common type of cancer in children.

The Durham-headquartered organisation's original aim was to assist in relieving hardship for families who include young people with this disease, but in 2015, it decided to extend its remit and formed a new relationship with the work with the Great North Children's Hospital around the story-telling idea.

Horrible Histories author Terry Deary is acting as an advocate for the project and has previously visited the paediatric oncology unit to see it in action.

Jane Nattrass, Henry Dancer's mum and founder of the charity, for which Alan Shearer acts as patron, says: "When Henry was undergoing treatment, he would sometimes work with a young filmmaker on making cartoons and other stories, and having seen how much he enjoyed these sessions, we thought doing something similar for other young cancer patients would be a good idea.

"Shelley does a wonderful job of fully involving the children in the stories she tells, and she really fulfils the idea that we had of helping them be fully absorbed by the story and their imagination, rather than in their treatment.

"We've seen young patients who've been struggling to eat because of their treatment being encouraged to do so by hearing a story about food, while the value of the time that parents get to speak to relatives, get a cup of coffee or simply gather themselves out of sight of their child can't be underestimated.

"The hospital had seen the direct benefits of the project and wanted us to put on more sessions, which this generous funding from the Society will enable us to do - it's really worth its weight in gold and allows us to give more back to young patients from across our native North East."

The Newcastle Building Society Community Fund is run in association with the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland. Grant applications for a maximum of £3,000 each can be made in any Society branch or via the newcastle.co.uk website by customers who wish to support their local communities.

Katie Wallace, manager at the Morpeth branch of Newcastle Building Society, adds: "This is a wonderful project which has such a hugely positive impact on young patients and their families at times that are almost too hard for most of us to contemplate.

"Our new Fund is designed to help us fulfil our core objective as a mutual organisation of supporting the communities in which we work, and it's hard to think of a more deserving cause to receive one of the first grants made from it."