I’m Lisa Beaumont and I’m the Therapeutic & Specialised Play Manager here at Leeds Children’s Hospital. Around this time of year people here start to call me “Mrs Christmas” because I always, along with my team, make sure that Christmas here in your local hospital – is the most amazing, fun and joyous it possibly can be.

Leeds Children’s Hospital looks after a huge number of children each year – caring for those with incredibly serious and complex conditions from all over the country.

I’ve worked with children and young people here for 31 years now. Everyone in the team knows how hard coming here can be for our patients and their families. Whether it’s for a long-term condition like cancer, or as a result of an accident or sudden health crisis, this can be a scary place where scary things happen. Needles, tubes, scans, operations; all of these can be challenging.

That’s why our team exists. We are highly trained play specialists and we work closely alongside our doctors and nurses to make every child’s experience a little brighter. We’ll engage the child with specialised play or storytelling, so they are distracted from the nurse taking blood samples. We can make the journey from the ward to the operating theatre part of a fun adventure story, with the child and their family at the centre.

For the many children and young people who have to be here for a long time, we’ll be a part of every day they spend with us; answering all their questions, distracting and entertaining them during treatments, allowing them to still have the fun that every child deserves.

We work every day, and every day is special. However Christmas can be a challenge for the children and families that are here – and that’s why we really go all out to make it as special as it can be. The magic of Christmas is for children and no child should miss out just because they’re in a hospital bed.

So, for each of the 30(!) Christmases I have helped to bring to the hospital, our team has tried to do just a little bit more, go a little bit further. We beautifully decorate every ward. We organise visits over the Christmas period from local choirs, musicians, entertainers and, of course, the panto. We have a ‘best dressed ward’ competition every Christmas and each year all the staff try to outdo the others in the colour and light they bring onto their wards.

We make sure that every child and every sibling (who so often get left behind) have a present from Santa to open on Christmas morning; something that’s just right for their age, ability and medical condition.

We spend the whole of December, right up to Christmas Eve, working flat out to create a magical experience for every child here – wonderful moments that make Christmas special. And, for those families sadly spending their last Christmas together, we try to create positive, precious memories that will last forever.

Now, as I’m sure it was for you and your family, Christmas last year was very different. For us only one parent was allowed in at once, with no other visitors. Keeping the wards COVID-19 safe meant no choirs, no Santa visits to the bedside, no family gatherings around the wards. Decorations (there were a few) had to be put up, following strict infection control guidance so people couldn’t touch them and transfer the virus. We had to be safe – and it made a big difference.

But we did what we could. We still managed to deliver at least one present for each child – there was a lot of Christmas music playing where we could have it and Santa came to visit the children, but he was outside their windows, in a huge cherry-picker machine we managed to arrange. It was lovely – we delivered the best Christmas we could under the circumstances; this year, we’re hoping to do more to make it magical for everyone who will be with us.

My friends from Leeds Hospitals Charity have told me you’re one of the amazing people who gave a donation to our ‘Dedicate a Star’ appeal last year. Thank you – because your generosity makes such a difference to children and their families across the hospital. My team and I all work for the NHS, but a lot of the equipment we need to play with the children, colouring books we buy, the ingredients for the cakes we make together – all come from the charity you support.

So that’s why I’m here asking you for help again today. COVID-19 hasn’t gone away – the ward is still largely restricted and we’re having to be incredibly careful. But things are relaxing a little and that means that we have a chance to give the children here this Christmas a bigger, brighter, better experience. But we need your help.

Our children had very few decorations around the wards last year and, while some things are still limited, I’d like to be able to make it slightly more festive this year. We want to bring lights and decorations back for the entire hospital, but we’ll have to buy new laminated ones that can be cleaned to protect against the virus – and hang everything up high where little fingers can’t reach.

We’d like to be able to host some Christmas celebrations this year, with individual activities, food, songs and games for every child. A special day they’ll enjoy and remember. I also really want to buy some new tablet computers – because they’ll entertain children who don’t have one at home, enabling videocalls home to see siblings and grandparents on Christmas Day. Lastly, but importantly, the charity funds a proper Christmas dinner for the dedicated staff who are working on Christmas Day – they absolutely deserve it.

I’d be so very grateful if you could make a donation to add a bit of Christmas sparkle to each child’s experience with us. The individual parties are our main focus; a gift from you today of £35 could help us to pay for the treats and entertainment! The tablet computers are £240 each, but you could perhaps just contribute a bit of that? Christmas dinner for the staff is a bargain at just £11 each! The big expense will be for the new Christmas decorations we want to buy, and the activities we want to bring in; we’re expecting to spend almost £5,500 in total (and the decorations have to be a special order).

We all know that if it were our own children in hospital, we’d do all we could to give them the best Christmas possible. Your donation can make that magic happen for a child in your hospital this year. Whatever you can manage, whatever feels generous to you, would be wonderful.

Thank you so much, again, for your generosity and friendship. From all of us, every best wish for a fantastic Christmas with your loved ones.

 - Lisa Beaumont, Therapeutic and Play Specialised Manager