Bringing it to bear
With Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes as its patron, Teddies For Loving Care is about to give out its millionth teddy bear. Anneke Hak charts its ten-year evolution
Back in October 1999, Freemason Ian Simpson took his wife, Angela, to Southend Hospital’s A&E unit after she had an allergic reaction causing her windpipe to swell and block. Anxious and frightened, the couple decided to do something to say thank you to the A&E staff and, with the help of Ian’s lodge, the Teddies For Loving Care appeal was born.
Teddies For Loving Care (TLC) is a simple idea. Freemasons donate money to their lodge’s TLC appeal, and the appeal (organised by each individual Province) donates teddy bears to the local A&E to be given to distressed children receiving treatment.
Ten years later, and Ian, now the TLC chairman, is about to see the millionth teddy bear donated to an A&E unit. Where that will happen, he’s not entirely sure, but TLC has been so successful that it could be anywhere from Essex to America, as the cause has gone global.
The appeal had much more humble beginnings, however. Firstly, Ian brainstormed the Thames Mouth Lodge in Southend, and along with Neil Beverley, Brian Procter and others, set a plan in motion. ‘When we started we were planning on only doing it here in Southend. Then we thought, “Hang on a moment, it’s probably something we could do over the whole of Essex,”’ Ian reveals. ‘We then got together to promote the concept and raise money to launch it.’
The first TLC bears arrived in A&E units in March 2001 and, as it was self-promoting, raising money for the appeal wasn’t too much hard work. ‘It wasn’t too long before somebody knew someone who had been given a teddy bear,’ explains Ian, ‘and so it was self-perpetuating, because people’s own children and grandchildren got help through the campaign.’
Before long the appeal had moved beyond the Provincial boundaries of Essex, much to the organising mason’s delight, and slowly over the past ten years nearly all the Provinces have joined in. The appeal has even moved abroad, catching on in Cyprus, Gibraltar and the United States.
From emergency staff’s testimonies, it’s clear how helpful TLC is to the practitioners working in A&E departments up and down the country. ‘They think it’s wonderful,’ says Ian. ‘An A&E consultant said publicly that TLC teddies were one of the attributable benefits that had given rise to a reduction in treatment times for children.’
Sarah Lewis, Emergency Matron Practitioner at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow, has been using the teddies for a number of years and agrees about the benefits they bring. ‘It means so much to the nurses,’ she says. ‘It makes our lives easier and the children feel safer and it’s not so traumatic for them. The teddy system works so well because it’s such a simple idea. It’s something the children love and makes them feel special. The parents see that you really value their child, they’re not just another number and they’re being seen as an individual.’
creating a diversion
And the teddy bears aren’t just employed to comfort the child either; the nurses will quite often use them as a diversion technique in order to get their jobs done quickly and efficiently. ‘Often we use the teddy to mimic the injuries that the child’s got,’ explains Sarah. ‘We’ll put a sticky plaster on the teddy’s arm if the child has hurt theirs, so we can use it as a diversion technique.’
Sometimes, however, the child is too young to notice the presence of a new soft toy. It’s during these times that the parents draw comfort from knowing that they’re not alone in their ordeal. Louis Joslin was born 29 weeks prematurely in 2001, and he was the first child to receive a TLC bear after Ian Simpson met his grandfather while giving a presentation about the appeal. ‘Afterwards, one of the masons approached me and told me the story of his grandson, who was in an incubator and weighed less than two pounds,’ recalls Ian. ‘His chances of survival weren’t good. I was standing in the bar holding a prototype teddy bear, and I handed it over. I couldn’t just stand there holding the bear while I was being told about this poor baby.’
showing care and generosity
Thanks to the care he received, Louis survived. His father Steve is now a Freemason and he still remembers how thankful he was to receive the bear. ‘It helped to know that other people have an appreciation of the fact that you’re going through a tough time,’ he says. ‘You take things for granted so often, but not care and generosity.’
Steve also can’t believe how successful the project has become. ‘It’s quite stunning when you know that it’s come from such humble origins, from a few people having a chat one day and thinking it might be a good idea.’
While TLC isn’t intended to promote Freemasonry in the community, one of its side effects is that it makes people aware of the good work that the Freemasons continue to do. ‘Everybody has their own theories,’ says Sarah Lewis, ‘but I’ve found the Freemasons so warm and welcoming, and TLC shows how generous they are.’
Ian Simpson is also aware that generosity from individual Freemasons has secured the appeal’s success. ‘Whenever I talk about TLC, I tell them about the thanks we receive, the million teddy bears, but more than that I tell them that they did it,’ he says. ‘Without their raising over a million pounds we would never have gotten where we are today.’
Looking towards the future, Steve, who has helped with the appeal since becoming a Freemason, thinks things can only get better. ‘It’ll still be there just so long as Freemasons are willing to put a tiny bit of effort in. If we can spread a little bit of happiness then that’s what it’s all about.’
For more information or to donate to the TLC appeal please visit www.tlcappeal.org.uk