CHILDREN’S Heart Unit Fund (CHUF) has launched a magical headquarters at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital to safely reconnect children on the Heart Unit with the popular Clown Doctors Programme.
‘Clown Doctors HQ’ has been created by transforming a summer house located within Ward 23’s outdoor play area into a safe, socially distanced space, where The Clown Doctors can interact with patients on the ward to lift their spirits and support their care.
The Clown Doctors are a team of specialist performers who engage with patients, known as Heart Heroes. They help them to come to terms with their situation, and most importantly to help them feel like children, through storytelling, music, improvisation and clowning.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown measures, Clown Doctors would visit children on the Unit twice a week. However, because of enhanced safety restrictions to protect those in hospital from COVID-19, these visits haven’t taken place for seven months.
The launch of Clown Doctors HQ will allow Heart Heroes to experience the joy and excitement once again by visiting The Clown Doctors at their HQ. The outdoor ‘transformed summer house’ will see one Clown Doctor inside the HQ with the doors open, one Clown Doctor at least two metres away in the outdoor play area, with one Heart Hero at a time at the entrance to the outdoor play area. This will mean the Heart Hero is in the vicinity of the interactive fun, all while staying safe.
Charlotte Campbell, Director of Fundraising and Operations at CHUF, said:
“CHUF fund The Clown Doctors Programme and it’s such a huge part of life on Ward 23 and PICU. When lockdown came into force, the face-to-face visits from the Clown Doctors had to stop as some of the children are at high risk with the nature of their heart problems.
“The Clown Doctors Programme then went virtual with the launch of The Beat Squad, which enabled activities and games to be transferred online, however, it was clear the children were still missing the light and magic The Clown Doctors physically brought onto the ward.
“We’re absolutely thrilled the Tin Arts team and the team on the ward came up with the idea behind Clown Doctors HQ – it’s the perfect way to get the Clown Doctors back on the ward doing what they do best, bringing smiles to the faces of poorly children, whilst staying safe.”
Martin Wilson, Executive Director at Tin Arts, the producing company behind The Clown Doctors Programme, said:
“The launch of Clown Doctors HQ is a way to bring a sense of ‘normality’ back on to the ward, and it’s a way to bring the ‘outside world’ to an environment that has felt so isolated for a long time.
“The Clown Doctors have been visiting the Children’s Heart Unit at The Freeman for 15 years now and every Clown Doctor is there to bring light and distraction to the ward, offering fun and creative play. The Clown Doctors are briefed before each visit to support children on bespoke issues, enabling the Heart Heroes to benefit from the programme in a subtle yet fun way.”
The artwork and design of Clown Doctors HQ were commissioned by visual theatre designer and artist Emma Tilney, who has also designed and made special face masks with red noses on for the Clown Doctors to wear. Emma painted eight ‘self-portraits’ of The Clown Doctors too which hang inside the HQ, imitating the narrative that the HQ is where The Clown Doctors are based when they’re not visiting the children on the ward.
Martin continued: “The Clown Doctors are familiar faces on the ward, and they help bring that sense of colour to the Heart Heroes, their families and also to the staff. They help boost morale which is so important in these unsettling times. This is why the launch of Clown Doctors HQ will have such a positive and uplifting impact to life on the ward.”
For more information about The Clown Doctors Programme and The Beat Squad, visit: www.chuf.org.uk/what-we-do/freeman-hospital/