For Cherry Land our Operations Manager, this Christmas, the spirit of giving and receiving will have a special significance.
11th December 2017
I’ve always been a big fan of Christmas – the twinkly lights, mince pies, mulled wine and hours watching films and playing Lego at home with my family, have been what makes it for me. But more recently, it’s been at work, in my job as Operations Manager at Read for Good, that Christmas has become a highlight of the year, and for a very special reason. In Autumn, our warehouse becomes the Nailsworth branch of Santa’s grotto as seven elves (actually our wonderful volunteers) pack a bespoke Christmas parcel for each of our 30 children’s hospitals. During the year, each hospital receives a six-weekly delivery of 120 brand new books (carefully selected classics, new titles and award winning titles) provided by funds raised through our sponsored read in schools, so the Christmas parcel is a surprise extra. It takes around two months for our hard-working volunteers to compile these delightful packages from the generous donations made throughout the year by authors, publishers and other supporters. This year’s treats include Harry Potter colouring kits from Walker Books, Football Hero biographies from Bonnier Publishing, surplus stock from our local children’s bookshop, Octavia’s in Cirencester, and some specially printed Moose Kid Comics. It’s such a pleasure to pack them all up, along with our newly-branded glossy posters and bookmarks. Our warehouse is as chilly as Santa’s Grotto at this time of year, so we feed our volunteer elves plenty of chocolate to keep them warm! My favourite moment in all this is when the thank-you emails from hospital staff arrive in my inbox. I love to imagine the atmosphere in the hospital when the boxes are unpacked, and envisage the excitement of the staff as they take on Santa’s role, delivering the goodies within to children on the wards.
For a child in hospital, stranded in bed, far from home, bored and in pain or discomfort, the gift of a book is like no other; it offers a chance to escape the hospital and adventure into the world of their imagination. At work, I read dozens of letters from parents and children telling us how important our service is, but this year I actually experienced it myself, when my daughter Sophie experienced her fifth open-heart surgery. So this Christmas, wrapping these parcels for the hospitals is especially emotional, as I remember the three weeks our family spent in Bristol Children’s Hospital during the summer. At ten years old, Sophie tackled her surgery with a bravery and maturity that inspired me enormously. But as a parent, watching her endure endless uncomfortable or painful procedures, I wanted desperately to make the hours pass more happily for her. Initially, the novelty of being allowed to watch limitless DVDs and play on the Playstation seemed very exciting, but soon wore thin. When the Read for Good mobile bookcase arrived on our ward, it was strange at first, for me to be on the receiving end of a service I help to run, but it was wonderful to witness the effect it had on Sophie. Being able to snuggle up with mummy or daddy, or her big sister, and share the comfort of a familiar book, or all of us together being able to delight in the wonders of the brand new title; it’s hard to describe how amazing this felt. It wasn’t only a welcome means of escape, it ushered in a sense of normality at a time when everything seemed to be spinning out of control for the whole family. Those precious moments of being able to shut out what was happening around us, were worth so much. A visit from fantastic Read for Good storyteller Wilf Merttens made Sophie’s day and created a bubble of wonder and imagination which transported her (and me!) far beyond the four walls of the hospital.
Sophie is one of a number of children who have been involved in all aspects of Read for Good’s work this year. Prior to her hospital stay, she took part in our sponsored read at her school, which joined a cluster of other schools in the Diocese of Gloucestershire Academy Trust. By getting sponsored to read whatever she chose, Sophie raised funds which have helped to provide brand-new books and resident storytellers to around 100 000 children in all of the UK’s major children’s hospitals this year.
This Christmas will be extra special for our family, now that Sophie’s painful journey is behind us. For Sophie herself, I’m sure that the spirit of Christmas – the giving and receiving of gifts – will be all the more meaningful, knowing as she does now, just what the gift of a book means to children who are spending their Christmas in hospital, as well as knowing that she has personally contributed to the cause. So, to her, and to all the other 500 000 children around the UK who have taken part in our sponsored read this year, as well as to all of our very generous donors, author and publisher supporters, and all children and families in hospital, MERRY CHRISTMAS!