12 September 2018
Thanks to the generosity and creativity of one of Evelina London’s major fundraising partners, Merlin Entertainments, the children at the hospital have a magical sensory room to enjoy.
Stepping into a different world
From the moment you open the door, painted to look like that of an enchanted castle, it’s clear that you’re stepping away from hospital beds, bright lights and busy medical staff into a very different world.
Inside, clever lighting and mirrors create a shimmering, magical effect. There are things to touch, to watch, to push and pull – a whole range of activities carefully designed not only to stimulate and entertain patients, but to support the therapists working with them and provide a vital escape for families.
As the mirrors reflect the watery light of the ‘aquarium’ across the floor and fish flicker by, it’s easy to see why one staff member describes it as being ‘as relaxing as a spa’.
Making children happier
‘The idea of this facility is to allow the children that little bit of independence,’ says play specialist Julie Ainsworth. ‘Not only does it make a difference to the children but it also makes a difference to the parents because they know it’s somewhere their children can be safe to play.’
Karen Jarvis’s 16-year-old daughter Kennedy has been at Evelina London for nearly 11 months.
‘Although she’s in a wheelchair, Kennedy’s got so much energy,’ says Karen.
‘The sensory room is a place where she can let off steam, and have her music blaring. It’s great for the rest of the family too – we can just go in there and relax.’
Ryan O’Hare is a teaching assistant at Evelina Hospital School, and sees the difference the sensory room makes to the children.
‘They’re allowed to be free and choose their own activities,’ he says. ‘They’re a lot happier and lighter. It has a really big, positive effect on them.’
The magic of Merlin
The room was made possible thanks to Merlin Entertainments, which runs four major local tourist attractions: the EDF Energy London Eye; the London Dungeon; the SEA LIFE London Aquarium; and Madame Tussauds.
Staff at the four Merlin attractions held various events including bake sales and silent auctions, raising £15,000 in cash. The remainder of the £50,000 total project value came in the form of time, expertise and materials, supplied free of charge by Merlin’s employees and many of its suppliers and partners.
Bradley Wynne, who works on Merlin’s theme parks, and Millie Proud of Madame Tussauds were part of the creative team behind the design, which is based around the four local attractions. Bradley admits it was a challenge to adapt their skills to a totally new environment.
‘Making things that are exciting and look good is second nature, but getting the sensory stuff right for the children was a real challenge.’
Working closely with the nurses helped give them a deeper insight into the children’s needs – and ensured that the room was fit for purpose. It’s now accessible by wheelchair and even hospital beds, and there’s a mobile trolley so that elements of the sensory room can be taken to the bedside.
It’s clear this space to escape, away from the hospital beds, is making a real difference to children, parents and staff at Evelina London.
As Ryan says, ‘It’s really nice to have children be children again.’