READING CAMPAIGN: How the sheer joy of reading is helping youngsters through hard times at Sheffield Children's Hospital
For the brave young patients battling for survival on the wards of Sheffield Children's Hospital the healing power of books can never be underestimated.
The thought of being hooked up to tubes in a hospital bed all day is a daunting, if not terrifying, prospect for anyone regardless of their age.
But the hospital's dedicated workforce are doing all they can to make their young patients' stay as comfortable as possible.
One way they are achieving this is through the simple joy of reading.
The hospital employs a team of five teachers and teaching assistants who deliver education to about 300 children a year from the hospital's very own classroom.
Teacher Caroline Hague explained that while it is true her students are seriously ill – their thirst for learning remains undiminished.
She said: “The children are determined to not let their illness stop them, all of them are really determined. It's really inspiring to see.”
The small team operates under the banner of Becton School, which has several hubs across the city and aims to provide education for children affected by physical or mental ill health.
They are able to draw from a huge collection of books thanks to the Read Well charity, which provides as many as 200 books per term.
The teachers read everything from nursery rhymes for primary school age children, right up to delivering lessons on Shakespeare for older patients studying for their GCSEs.
Children have even sat GCSE exams inside the hospital.
Ms Hague said: “One of the students wrote to me to tell me about his exam results and to say thank you for all our help. It was really touching.
“There is really nothing better than seeing how young people can learn and improve even in very difficult times.”
The teachers have developed unique ways of delivering their lessons in what is clearly an unusual environment.
They understand that they have to sometimes go the extra mile to make their storytelling more engaging.
Some youngsters may have undergone treatments with horrendous side effects, such as chemotherapy, and they need more help to get fully immersed in a story.
Ms Hague said: “We have what we call 'story sacks', which is basically a big bag full of puppets and props to help us to bring the story we are telling to life.
“We really want to take them somewhere else out of their current environment. Our aim is to really inspire their imagination.
“The children are going through a difficult time, but we have seen how reading and taking their mind off their current situation can improve how they feel.”
One youngster who has benefited from the reading programme is Mia Phipps.
The brave six-year-old, from Leicester, has spent much of her life battling leukemia.
She has also stayed at the hospital for the last several months after developing complications from a bone marrow transport.
But one ray of light has been the reading sessions.
Her proud parents Mandy, aged 29, and policeman Chris, aged 30, have noticed a huge change in their daughter's confidence.
Mandy said: “Along with her condition, she has anxiety and selective mutism.
“She used to dread the thought of going to school but now she can't wait to get started. And that's all down to reading.
“Her confidence has grown and it has been amazing to see.”
Chris added: “We read to her as well which makes for nice family time for us.
“It is important that she has things that entertain her that she is interested in because she is in her hospital room a lot.
“We're very proud of her.”
But of course the most important judge of whether the reading programme is a success or not is little Mia. Thankfully, she gave it her seal of approval.
Said Mia: “I love reading. My favourite stories are Mrs Pepper Pot and Is That You Wolf.”