How science is helping to bring joy to children in hospital

6 November 2018

A nine-year-old girl who suffers from a rare and extremely painful bone condition is hoping to make long hospital stays a little less daunting for other poorly children by creating activity packs to hand out on children’s wards.

Annabelle Groombridge, from Kent, has a chronic illness which has no cure. The condition causes her immune system to destroy healthy bone by mistake, which can sometimes leave her bedridden and requires regular treatment.

Annabelle’s mum, Amanda, says she ‘isn't able to enjoy the things most of us take for granted’ – but despite dealing with her own painful illness, Annabelle selflessly wanted to create something for other sick children to enjoy.

The idea came about after Annabelle went in for her first three-day treatment; it was carried out at the weekend, when the craft room was shut, no ‘play nurses’ were available and there was very little for children to do.

In preparation for her next stay, Annabelle saved up her pocket money to buy lots of art and craft materials to play with and share with other children on the ward.

“The children were delighted,” Amanda said. “They could all play, talk and share together over the whole weekend.

“Annabelle finds her treatment very difficult and painful, so to be able to talk and have some fun with the other children helps her a great deal, as it does the other children, and it also breaks the ice for parents too. As you can imagine, in an orthopaedic children's ward there's a great deal of difficult decisions being made and dealt with by children and their parents.”

Annabelle helped children on her ward make paper planes and even managed to help a little boy to make and fly them, despite him being flat on his back for six weeks after surgery.

“He had so much fun, he didn't want us to leave after our three-day stay. That's when she had the 'spark' and realised how much it helped everyone and made them a lot happier,” Amanda said.

Although Annabelle started with arts and crafts, she was inspired by the citizen science projects created around Tim Peake’s Principia Mission to include more science activities – so she founded the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and maths) Pack project.

While Amanda and dad Keith have been giving a helping hand, they insist the success of the project is all because of Annabelle and her positive attitude. Amanda said: “It's all down to her hard work and good attitude to life, she earns respect from her elders and she loves to learn. I am trying to do the best I can for her and support her all the way on her journey.”

Her first STEAM packs will be for three hospitals, the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore, Darent Valley Hospital and Evelina London – all of which have helped her personally. Annabelle hopes to get the packs delivered before Christmas.

STFC has recently donated a large selection of educational materials about its facilities and science to the packs, with a promise to renew the materials whenever necessary.

Derek Gillespie, STFC’s Head of Skills and Engagement, said: “STFC is one of the leading funders of science and technology research in the UK, and as such we are passionate about the value of science as part of our society, and what we can do to inspire the same passion in others. We are delighted that our educational resources will be used to entertain children who are going through a tough time, and we hope this will ignite in them an interest in science which they can carry with them through the rest of their lives.”

As well as STFC’s donation, the packs include donations from the UK Space Agency, the Guinness World Records and others, with resources from colouring books and stickers to educational resources.

If you want to donate to the STEAM Packs project, you can contact Amanda through the Twitter feed @pack_steam.

Science and Technology Facilities Council
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