Children’s hour

A beautiful country house stands gleaming in the light of the morning sun. Leaves flicker gently in the breeze as birds chatter away in the distance.

You could be forgiven for thinking you’d wandered on to the set of Pride and Prejudice, such was the air of tranquillity that greeted The Lawyer’s recent visit to the Children’s Trust. But behind these elegant walls, devoted staff members were beavering away, tending to the plight of some of the country’s most unfortunate children.

The trust is a national charity that provides care, education and therapy for children with multiple disabilities and complex health needs. Based in a discreet corner of Tadworth in Surrey, it hopes to mark its 25th anniversary in 2009 by unveiling a new state-of-the-art rehabilitation centre.

Corporate fundraiser Angie Turner was the architect behind the trust’s association with The Lawyer and highlights the importance of the funding generated by the 2008 Lawyer Awards.

“At the moment we’re touching the tip of the iceberg,” she says. “There are so many more children we could help, but we need the funding. We need to raise £7.2m to open the centre in April next year, and at the moment we’ve hit the £3.5m mark. That’s why awards like [The Lawyer’s] help us to reach more children around the UK. It’s also brilliant that we’ve got the funding for the next three years. It means that this time next year we can look back and compare progress. It’s a really tangible project.”

Every penny spent by the Children’s Trust is generated through fundraising campaigns and donations. Staff work around the clock organising dress-down days, promoting charity shops and appealing to local schools and supporter groups to get involved.

Four hundred volunteers help the on-site staff by arranging trips for disadvantaged children to the ice rink and the zoo, as well as helping with activities such as gardening and sewing.

Even a handful of law firms have been known to “get their hands dirty” as Turner chirpily points out. “There are so many ways they can help,” she adds. “Whether it’s adopting us as their charity of the year or running one of our events.”

She singles out Thomas Eggar for special praise, the firm having recently sent a band of lawyers to help with the maintenance of the gardens.

Every aspect of the Children’s Trust has been designed and modified to suit the needs of the children. Specially designed beds, colour-coded walls and play areas have all been methodically crafted. Out on the building site for the new rehabilitation centre, small circular peep holes have been cut into the walls so the children can follow the development’s progress at first hand.

Inside one of the main therapy centres, a soothing hush filters through the corridors. The staff beam with warmth and enthusiasm while children play noisily in brightly lit rooms. Five-year-old Justin, already a Children’s Trust veteran, was only too happy to speak to The Lawyer, boldly proclaiming his love of all things yellow and cars that go “beep”.

Justin is one of 75 children based on the Tadworth site and epitomises the spirit of the Children’s Trust – one of courage and bravery in the face of adversity. Justin is based in the transitional care unit, having been diagnosed with hydrocephalus (water on the brain) a couple of years ago. He requires 24-hour nursing and a ventilator to help him breathe, but is slowly being introduced to the outside world thanks to the continued support of the Children’s Trust.

While the children are extremely reliant on the staff, part of the charity’s ethos is geared towards giving them a sense of independence. Play therapist Jan Vance’s work is indicative of the faint line that divides proactive guidance from the subtle garnering of information. She works with children with acquired brain injuries and those who have suffered horrific accidents and unexpected illness. Inviting them into a room filled with toys, the children are asked to pick an object that could come to represent their feelings.

“It works on a mechanism called symbolic distance,” explains Vance. “By choosing a toy to play a theme, they’re not talking to me directly. They don’t have to answer my questions. It’s a make-believe world, but they can find an understanding of how they’re feeling and sometimes make better adaptations of what has happened to them. It’s very poignant and emotional work.”

The creation of the national rehabilitation centre will only improve life further for children at the trust. Multi-sensory bathrooms, nurse call systems and hydrotherapy centres are just some of the many advancements due to take place.

Turner is just happy to be involved with the charity as it prepares to usher in an exciting new era.”I love that we get to see the buildings going up and love seeing the children’s reactions,” she enthuses. “That’s exactly what we’re about.”

As for Justin, there’s every chance he’ll soon be hurtling through the halls in a little yellow car that goes “beep”.