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Bless this house.

Byline: By Louise Redvers

Spending Christmas in hospital is no fun for anyone, especially when you're young.

It can also be quite tough on parents and siblings whose traditional festivities are disrupted by trips to wards and sleepless nights, through worry.

But thanks to one charity, many families are getting a better Christmas this year.

Crawford House at Newcastle's Royal Victoria Infirmary is home to the Sick Children's Trust who provide free accommodation to families visiting loved ones there.

This year all 16 bedrooms are booked and manager Gail Stonly said she had another five families on her waiting list looking for Christmas accommodation.

"We're incredibly busy this year," she said, "I hate turning people away but we do our best to accommodate as many as possible.

"No-one wants to be here at the best of times but Christmas is even harder, so we try and make it as Christmassy as possible for everyone."

Crawford House is a self-contained unit on the RVI site and is decorated like a house, not a hostel.

Small touches like having proper loo roll instead of hospital sheets, and allowing parents to do their own laundry with their own washing powder help guests feel at home.

"It's amazing what a difference it makes having your own brand of powder," Gail said, "Having the familiar smell makes guests feel more at home and also makes people feel more in control if their doing their own laundry.

"We have phones in all the rooms which are connected to the wards so mum and dad know they can always be contacted if needed and they don't have to stay on the ward."

All guests have their own food cupboards and fridge space so they can prepare their own meals in the communal kitchen area as they wish.

Gail said: "The idea is to give parents the flexibility to come and go as they please.

"Having their own brands of tea and coffee and a stack of their favourite biscuits also helps because when you're spending long periods in hospital your meals are disrupted and you drink a lot of machine tea and coffee.

"We're expecting some to cook Christmas lunch here but many will be up on the ward. It's up to them really."

Many families at Crawford House come from Teesside and Cumbria as their children have been brought to Newcastle for specialist care, but some Tyneside families also stay.

Emma and Alan Swinburne have spent seven weeks in Newcastle with son Stephen, four, transferred to the RVI by doctors in Workington, Cumbria. Emma, 21, said: "We don't know what's wrong with him. They're just doing a lot of tests now. He's having lots of different biopsies and all sorts.

"They think he might have Guillan Barre Syndrome, a nerve disorder, which he's had before, but we'll have to wait and see.

"It's hard with Stephen in hospital so long but people here have been very supportive and it makes it a lot easier having somewhere like this to stay."

Mandy Smith, 42, and her partner Tracy McGee, 32, are also regulars at Crawford House as Mandy's daughter Megan, 14, is undergoing treatment for Hodgkin's Lymphoma ( lymph gland cancer.

"We stay over a lot," Mandy said, "It's a wonderful place and the staff are excellent. Megan's stayed her herself and she likes it."

The Sick Children's Trust is funded by voluntary donations. It costs pounds 45,000 a year to run Crawford House. More info: www.sickchildrenstrust.org
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Dec 23, 2005
Words:582
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