The Teapot Trust
Kate Rafferty finds out more about the work of this charity, which provides art therapists to help children in hospital.
Kate Rafferty finds out how the Trust helps children in hospital
SHARING a cup of tea and slice of cake with Laura Young feels like a moment of calm in the middle of the day. It certainly is for Laura, as much of her life is now dedicated to the Teapot Trust, a charity she established with her husband John in memory of their daughter, Verity.
Verity had chronic illnesses requiring regular hospital visits, and died aged just eight at the end of 2009. The Teapot Trust offers art therapy in hospital waiting rooms to make life a little easier for children like her.
Hospital waiting rooms can be a miserable and sometimes frightening place for adults, so think how much more traumatic they can be for children.
And when those children have a chronic illness, they will associate the experience with examinations and perhaps even painful treatment. It’s little wonder they are reluctant to go or are upset when they arrive.
For doctors, assessing a condition is done more successfully if the child is relaxed and in the best possible frame of mind. However, there’s a limited amount of time to achieve that once the consultation has begun.
This was a problem faced by Laura and John.
“Verity was diagnosed with lupus at the age of three and from the beginning hated blood tests and particularly needles. We had to be so careful when we told her about an appointment because she would run and hide and become so distressed. She didn’t realise she was ill. In her mind she was going to this place and being physically assaulted.”
Of course, no-one knows what a child needs more than a mother and Laura recalled how fond Verity was of one of her babysitters. Christina was an art student and when she sat with Verity and drew pictures, the little girl became calmer and more content.
IASKED Christina if she could do the same at the hospital, and suddenly we could say that we were going to see Christina to draw pictures. It really made a difference and struck a chord with her and it occurred to me that if it helped Verity, how many other children could it help?” Laura explains. “We researched art therapy and wondered how we could get an art therapist dedicated to the Sick Kids Hospital in Edinburgh.”
After Verity passed away, John and Laura had a collection to establish an organisation that could do that.
“Apart from looking after my other two daughters, Nina and Isla, I threw myself into research, just to make sure we wouldn’t be replicating the work being done by any other charity. If we were, we could donate the money to them.”
But there was no other charity working in the same field, and the Teapot Trust was born in 2010. Since then it has had a huge influence across the country.
The first Teapot Trust art therapist was at Edinburgh Sick Kids, as Verity lived in Gullane, East Lothian, but then Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen, Inverness and the children’s hospice, Rachel House, were all provided with art therapy for children.
The Trust was also approached by Dr Clarissa Pilkington, Consultant in Adolescent and Paediatric Rheumatology at Great Ormond Street Hospital, who asked if the Teapot Trust could have a presence there – and now it does.
The services have developed from drawing one-to-one, as Laura explains.
“We support and supply art therapists for children with longerterm health conditions. That might be
cancer, but we predominantly help children with a rheumatological disease and those conditions where children will never be cured.
Our Art Therapists work within the Out Patient’s Department at a table crammed full of art materials which the children can choose from. The children can also model with clay, which is good for children with arthritis because rolling the clay is great for working the hands – it’s physiotherapy without them knowing it.”
The Trust also works one-toone with children who are struggling with medication and doing badly at school. There’s also a higher instance of bullying among children with chronic health conditions, where other children don’t understand why they have time off school and why allowances are sometimes made.
“They might be on some really nasty drugs, but because they haven’t lost their hair, they don’t look very different and other children don’t understand,” Laura says.
The hospitals were initially quite nervous of what art therapy would mean, and it did take Laura’s tenacity to convince them of the benefits.
“I think they thought it might be messy and weren’t quite sure of how it would work, but now that we are in place, they don’t ever want us to leave!”
The art therapists have all done postgraduates in art psychotherapy. The Teapot Trust insists that they must have had three years’ experience with children post qualification, so they are all highly qualified people.
The success of the Teapot Trust means there are now two parts to its work – the art therapy and, of course, the fund-raising to keep the work going.
“We have a clinical manager now to ensure that everything is performing correctly clinically and that every therapist has appropriate qualifications.
“We know that we can have real life-changing effects on the children with one-to-one therapy which is done in eight-week blocks but continues for as long as the child needs,” Laura explains.
“The great thing is they don’t need to be accomplished at art. It’s all about expression, making a mark, and that can be done though dots and dashes. We’re not looking to improve ability. It’s about communication, which can be difficult to do verbally.”
THERE are children who need to travel large distances for regular hospital appointments, which means taking a lot of time off school. The art therapy doesn’t just help to keep them calm, making life easier for the child, parents, and medical staff, it also normalises life for them and provides a sense of positive continuity.
“The children also bond through the therapy,” Laura adds. “It’s easy to feel that you’re the only one who is having to come to hospital like this, be examined and be subjected to needles and treatments, but when they work with other children, they learn that they’re not alone and meet children that they have much in common with.
“It also means that children aren’t staring into phone or tablet screens – they can’t get lost in their own thoughts.
“Doctors know that they can do their job much more easily, and the children know they’re in a safe place. Sometimes the children bring in a picture or an animal that they have made of clay into the consulting room and it makes starting the conversation so much easier for everyone.”
Fund-raising is paramount, of course, but there have been many original ideas. Recently the Teapot Trust made a connection with the popular Edinburgh Yarn Festival. An enthusiastic supporter of the Teapot Trust knitted tea cosies that were sold there to raise funds for the charity.
Ah, yes, teapots. I almost forgot to ask where the name came from.
“The name comes from Verity and her connection with tea parties,” Laura explains. “Verity had to drink a certain amount of fluid after her medication, but she was extremely reluctant, would get very cross and just refuse. To encourage her, we would take out my husband’s granny’s tea set and set up a tea party with her teddies.
“We’d say, ‘Oh, well, if you don’t want to drink, the teddies will have a tea party without you’. She came round quite quickly then!
“Later, when her friends came to visit and they were a bit unsure of what to do as she couldn’t play, we would have tea parties again. The tea party has become such a huge part of our lives now and really, we hope that what we are offering is something that soothes and relaxes, like a good cup of tea.”
Want To Know More?
For information or to donate, visit www.teapot-trust.org or write to Teapot Trust, Cockenzie Business Centre, Edinburgh Road, Cockenzie EH32 0XL.
Laura and a young hospital visitor.
Laura with Sara Cox at Great Ormond Street Hospital.
The Young family are always fund-raising.
A youngster enjoying the art table.