Maintaining a ‘home from home’ for families of sick children in Cambridge

A man embraces a woman, who is wearing a sash reading 'The Sick Children's Trust'

Caroline Holloway has helped refurbish a communal kitchen in Cambridge which is used by families of some of the UK’s most seriously ill children.

I started a 10 year saving plan with Engage Mutual over 32 years ago and recently stumbled across an email from them asking if I knew of a charity or community project that needed funding. Instantly I thought of Acorn House, a local project that I have supported for many years with my husband John.

Acorn House, run by The Sick Children’s Trust, is a 15 bedroomed house at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge. It supports families with very sick children, providing a ‘home from home’ for them while their child is in hospital. It also acts as a sanctuary for those who spend the majority of their days by their children’s bedside.

The house has been open for 14 years now, and in that time its family bedrooms have been almost always occupied. There is a kitchen and a dining room, a play room for siblings, and a living room where they can relax in front of the TV, just like they would at home.

“The house has a really warm, friendly and homely environment, a place where parents and families can take the pressure off.”

With Addenbrooke’s Hospital being a centre for research, teaching and pioneering treatment, it sees families from all over the UK coming to Cambridge in need of accommodation close to their children. It supports over 450 families every year, but is completely reliant on donations as it’s entirely voluntary. So The Cambridge Fundraising Committee publish a varied and busy events programme to raise funds for The Sick Children’s Trust.

John and I have been members of the Fundraising Committee for Acorn House for 10 years now. Although we do receive a lot of funding from the grateful families who stay here, there is always a shortfall, and we aim to make this up by doing our own fundraising in Cambridge.

When I heard about the Foundation, the house was in desperate need of funding to refurbish the kitchen. Having not been updated since the house opened in the year 2000, it was in a poor state after years of continuous use. All the flooring and worktops needed replacing, and we also wanted to install an additional cooker to allow more families to use the kitchen at the same time as each other.

“The kitchen is not just a space to prepare food, but the heart of the house where families gather after emotionally exhausting days.”

The kitchen is an area to take time away from the hospital wards to have lunch or cook a proper dinner, and also a place where families can share food, stories and occasionally tears. It is this time that makes them realise that they are not alone, and can offer support to one another in a way that is truly inspiring.

Although we had worked hard to raise funds towards the work needed, we were struggling to make up the final balance to get the kitchen underway, but the Community Award finally enabled us to get the ball rolling, and we started work within weeks of winning the award!

Thanks to the Foundation, we can continue to serve families now and in the future, giving them the support they need to help them work through such a terrible time. By giving us the final piece of the fundraising puzzle, we can now ensure that this space is up to the standard that these brave and wonderful families deserve.