The Cancer Fund For Children have opened the enchanting doors to its new Narnia Garden. Residential Services Manager Raphael O’Connor tells Catriona Doherty about the services provided by the charity and their latest offering
Work has just been completed on The Cancer Fund For Children’s Narnia Garden outdoor facility on the grounds of their purpose-built therapeutic centre, Daisy Lodge, in Newcastle, County Down.
The charity teamed up with the Northern Ireland Prison Service to develop this invaluable resource, and inmates at Maghaberry contributed by creating an ornate wooden doorway, garden furniture and more.
Cancer Fund For Children support those who are coping with the impact of a cancer diagnosis and its treatment has on the whole family, with an emphasis on rebuilding family life, beyond the essential medical care.
The organisation also helps bereaved families to cope with the emotional pain of losing a child or parent to cancer.
“When families are initially diagnosed, getting that specialist treatment is their focus, but with that comes the emotional impact of cancer and the very arduous journey of treatment as well,” says Daisy Lodge Residential Services Manager Raphael (Raph) O’Connor (49).
Daisy Lodge is designed for families to spend quality time together in a safe and supportive environment, removed from the pressures of cancer treatment and hospital wards.
“The family can be very disrupted as a result of treatment, so getting time away to come to somewhere like Daisy Lodge, is such an important part of their recovery, and that’s something that we specialise in — offering that support to those families that come here.
“There are two elements to that; we offer support to families who have children with cancer, and we also offer support to parents that have cancer as well. It varies from case to case. For a lot of families, it can be during their treatment and for others it can be after. When a family is referred to us they may be involved with us for a couple of years.
“Beside Daisy Lodge there’s a wooden cabin called Narnia and that’s where we do residential support work for children over therapeutic weekends.
“We also then provide community support for families and individuals in their own home, in the hospital ward, and in the community, and that can be diagnosed young children, the siblings of children, or young people with a parent with cancer. So, there’s quite a big remit of support that we do offer.”
Every week in Northern Ireland, another three children and young people will be told the news they have cancer, while many more children will be struggling to cope with a parent’s diagnosis.
“We also take families from the south of Ireland and as part of our strategy we are hoping to open a second Daisy Lodge in the next couple of years in Mayo, simply because the numbers are so high, we can’t take all the capacity for the south of Ireland,” Raph says.
“We offer complementary therapies to promote relaxation and wellness.
“We have families who come to Daisy Lodge very stressed, in between coping with cancer and managing cancer within the family. So, spending those couple of days away and being pampered and looked after, is very important.
“It’s just giving our families a complete rest, so that they can spend time together and rebuild their lives and connect again emotionally, and have the power and strength as a family to continue on the journey.”
Daisy Lodge facilities include a wellbeing centre and gym, home cinema, playroom and games room, communal lounges, areas to facilitate Peer Support meet-ups, and the Narnia Garden which has a decked seating area, barbecue facilities, a fencing area, archery facilities and more.
“We had a sloped area at the back of the Narnia log cabin that was a waste ground. It was a fairly large area and it was overgrown for many years,” Raph explains.
“It was kind of a wish list by those in the charity to develop it, but nobody got around to getting their heads together and actually planning and delivering it.
“When I came on board a couple of years ago as Residential Services Manager in Daisy Lodge, I made an approach, through conversation with some of our volunteers who were staff in the horticulture department at Maghaberry Prison. They do plants and flowers for us every year in window baskets.
“I asked them was there any chance that they could come and look about helping us redecorate the garden, and that’s basically how it started.
“It was a partnership with Northern Ireland Prison Service, and the governors then took it on board. There were two staff from the horticulture department in the prison service that came and did up a plan. And then the prisoners worked on the wooden seats and benches and so forth, that were to be put in the garden. They were all designed and built by the prisoners in the prison, they didn’t come on site.”
Work began in 2018 to landscape the slope and develop the site into the accessible multi-purpose resource it is today.
“We have had over 20 groups of different volunteers that have come on ‘away days’ to help redevelop that site with some of our core supporters,” Raph says.
“The Lottery came on board and gave us funding to help us deliver that. So all in all, there’s been the Lottery and some funders, and we designed the garden on £19,000. We’ve turned it into an activity and play area for families and children away on residentials.
“The facility will be used by families using our therapeutic short break centre at Daisy Lodge, or our residential facility at Narnia itself. It is for the families impacted by cancer or children who are on residential short breaks as well.
“We know from research that spending time outdoors is so important mentally for people, and it makes them feel good and feel better. Coping with cancer is always difficult, so anything that involves the outdoor space, I think is always beneficial. Because this is on site here, and we have developed the garden, it just means that we have a space now that we can use for activities with children and parents. Be it archery, be it somewhere to sit and share in a group activity.
“It allows our team to do more creative work with them outdoors — it has so many functions.
“It was designed very carefully and creatively with children, and we consulted families to do that before we actually started the project. It’s the brainchild of myself with the Prison Service for the last two to three years and we have finally opened, so we’re delighted.”
Raph says The Cancer Fund For Children are extremely grateful to those people and organisations who came together to turn what was once a ‘wish’ into a reality.
“We couldn’t have done this without the wonderful help and the partnerships with other organisations and businesses that have came on board to help us deliver,” Raph says.
“But fundamentally two of the bigger organisations were H & J Martin and the Northern Ireland Prison Service, and we have to thank them, and the prisoners because they are contributing and giving back to society as well because they are allowing this space to be developed for families impacted by cancer ultimately. I think it’s a wonderful story in itself and it made the shared space that we have more creative for families and children.
“The Prison Service were very much there in the design stage, and the implementation of the garden furniture, especially the benches and seats that needed to be done.
“There’s a lovely door feature that goes into a wooden doorway. And that’s specialist work that the woodwork department and horticulture team had done in Maghaberry Prison with the inmates.”
For more information visit, cancerfundforchildren.com