On 12th March 2001 an extraordinary, and unique, scheme was launched by Essex Freemasons: it was a simple idea – to raise funds to provide Essex A&E departments with Teddies for the medical staff to give to children brought into their care to help relieve their distress
Back in October 1999, Freemason Ian Simpson took his wife, Angela, to Southend Hospital’s A&E unit after an allergic reaction caused her windpipe to swell and block. After finding themselves so anxious and frightened, Ian proposed to his Lodge that a donation be sent to say thank you to the A&E staff. The thought of helping the A&E inspired another Lodge member, Neil Beverley, who was already involved in donating Trauma Teddies to Essex Fire and Rescue Services, to come up with the idea of supplying teddies to A&E units across Essex and the Teddies For Loving Care appeal was born. And, ten years after what started so successfully as a purely local scheme and which been extended to all the A&E units in Essex, Ian, then the TLC Chairman, marked the gift of the
one-millionth teddy bear.
However, where that happened, nobody is entirely sure, because TLC had been so successful that it had been taken up not only by masonic provinces all over England, but had gone global.
Now, two decades after its launch, TLC is still going strong. Three million teddies have been cuddled by children in hospitals in every country under the Grand Lodge of England’s banners.
Medical practitioners everywhere agree on the benefits the teddies bring.
'It means so much to the nurses,’ one 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.'
And the teddy bears aren’t just employed to comfort the child either; nurses will quite often use them as a diversion technique as they work, like using the teddy to mimic the injuries the child has, perhaps putting a sticky plaster on the teddy’s arm if the child has hurt theirs.
And now the scheme has taken another step forward. Current Chairman Robert Whittingham explained: 'Last year, the fund presented a grant of £10,000 to the Child Death Review Team.
'The team is based in Harlow, Essex and is made up of former nurses and other medical practitioners. They respond to all child deaths reported in Essex, ranging from cot death to teenage suicide, support the families at the time of death and after, and make introductions to other support agencies. They also attend Coroners’ inquests to give evidence and further support the families, and liaiase with other agencies such as the Police in any formal investigations.'
Robert added: 'The donation is being made to enable them to purchase books and other specialist materials given to bereaved parents and siblings at an awful time. The literature enables parents to explain to surviving siblings what has happened and help them to understand.'
Today there are 47 regional TLC programmes across England and Wales that provide teddies for their local A&E departments. Once a hospital joins the scheme they can replenish teddies on request through their local TLC representative. Some TLC programmes also donate a portion of their TLC funds towards teddies for minor injuries units, children’s wards and hospices; there are even teddies flying on air ambulances!
Recent months have seen the introduction of a new model of teddy and Essex, as the founder of the scheme, is proud to have been the first Province to receive supplies for its hospitals, medical units and air ambulances.
Pictured above is Laura Ryan, the play team lead at Basildon Hospital, holding some of the new teddies. Laura is responsible for ensuring the teddies are given out to the children.