When my sister, Jo, was three or four she had an accident. She was climbing up the outside of the bannisters, which she was expressly forbidden to do, and fell, catching her arm in between two of the uprights, breaking her arm badly.
My parents took her to The Queen Elizabeth’s Children’s Hospital in Haggerston (now luxury flats) where they needed to set her arm in theatre and have her stay overnight.
In the mid-seventies, parents weren’t allowed to stay in hospitals with their children. There were hardly any toys, books or playrooms. Children were treated just like small adults. My mum had other ideas and refused to leave. She found a chair and slept on that.
She woke early the next morning to discover a ward full of wailing children, some with wet beds and harried nurses rushing around trying to get all the children up, cleaned and dressed in time for ward rounds with the Doctor with a capital D.
Mum did what she could, comforting the most distressed children. Jo, who has always been generous and even then as a small child, surrounded by all these temporarily parentless children, she gathered as many as she could and told them, ‘Come with me, my mum will look after you.’
My mum’s teaching experience kicked in and she got some books out of her bag (she always had a kit of toys and books to entertain us as children) and read to this motley crew of tousle-haired children, calming and soothing them allowing the grateful nurses to do their job of preparing the ward.
Jo was only in for one night, but that was enough. This wasn’t acceptable to my mum, both for the children, who were scared and alone, when they most needed loving care, but also for the nurses who were acting as childminders and cleaners rather than health professionals.
She got in contact with the National Association for the Welfare of Children in Hospital (Now Action for Sick Children) and with their support fundraised for and founded the Hackney branch. She successfully campaigned, with others, so parents could stay with their children, and eventually, that accommodation would be provided for parents. She also campaigned around the importance of play in hospitals which led to the provision of playrooms.
This is how change happens. There is no social justice fairy granting wishes. Change happens when individuals take action, either collectively or on their own. (Both are good.) And this is what my mum taught me, through this other examples in how she lives her life.
It was my mum’s birthday yesterday, Happy Birthday lovely Mum!