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Breathing Spaces – the True Colours Fund for Parent/Carer Rooms in Hospitals

Breathing Spaces – A summary

The Breathing Spaces Fund for parent/carer rooms in hospitals was established by the True Colours Trust in 2018. Any hospital in the UK with a PICU was eligible to apply for a grant of £20,000 to improve parent/carer rooms on paediatric in-patient wards. Lisa Spinks, True Colours’ Parent Adviser, was integral to the programme which was inspired by her son Rory. Please see below for their story. The Fund closed in March 2020.

What is a Breathing Space?

Breathing Spaces are parent/carer rooms in hospitals which create a ‘home from home‘ environment. These spaces are thoughtfully designed to meet the specific needs, and promote the wellbeing, of parents/carers in this challenging situation. These rooms are non-clinical spaces, set aside for the exclusive use of parents and carers and are not overnight accommodation.

What next?

Breathing Space rooms now exist in children’s hospitals across the UK (funded by the True Colours Trust). As the impact of Breathing Spaces is felt around the UK, some parents and families have been independently fundraising for a local hospital charity to allow more hospitals to install these vital spaces. This includes the Spinks family who are raising funds to create three new Breathing Spaces at Great Ormond Street Hospital where Rory spent much of his life.

We are thrilled that the Breathing Spaces concept has gained such momentum and hope that these rooms will continue to inspire more hospitals to install rooms on their wards.

Lisa and Mike Spinks’ Story

Photo of Rory

Our son Rory was diagnosed with athymic complete DiGeorge syndrome in October 2013, which essentially means that he was born without a functioning immune system. As a result, we spent the best part of 3 years in and out of hospital, which included many long and difficult stays. Having a seriously ill child in hospital is one of the most stressful experiences a parent can go through and all of us respond in different ways to the pressures of hospital life but most of us, at some point feel lonely, frightened and far away from home and the support of our friends and family.

We spent the majority of our time with Rory in his room day and night, which involved complicated rotas to ensure he was never left, that we both saw our other son and that Mike could continue to work full time. Sometimes, we just needed a break: when Rory went to the operating theatre, we didn’t want to wait by an empty bed but we were too nervous to leave the hospital; we had to have many difficult conversations with the medical staff and afterwards we needed to talk (or cry) and not in front of Rory; Rory was on TPN for the majority of his life which meant he was fed intravenously and as a result we never felt that comfortable eating in front of him; or sometimes we just wanted to connect with someone else who knew what we were going through – other parents.
Photo of Rory

Unfortunately, sitting rooms/kitchens for parents or carers in hospitals are often given very little thought – it is the child who is sick after all. This is true of course, but we as parents play a vital role in our child’s care team so this needs to be seriously re-evaluated. If we look after the parents, then they are better fuelled physically and emotionally to look after their child so everyone benefits.

Mike and I are determined to do what we can to make families’ experiences in hospital more bearable, to help parents develop friendships, share their experiences and give them the space they deserve.

Lisa and Mike

Our hope is that many other hospitals will be inspired to create Breathing Spaces on their wards, improving the experiences of parents and carers of children in hospital.