Hearts & Minds

Hearts & Minds use the art of therapeutic clowning to bring joy and laughter to children in hospital, hospice care, and Special Educational Need Schools. The Royal Caledonian Charities Trust donated £1,250 to support their work with the Children’s Hospices Across Scotland “Virtual Hospice” and other digital services.

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The effects of lockdown have significantly increased feelings of isolation, anxiety and fear among our service users. Children are no longer able to receive the same visits from friends and family members, or cannot attend their usual support services. In some cases they cannot access any of the support they rely on. Children’s Hospices Across Scotland (CHAS), for instance, has had to end its usual support for children with life-limiting conditions and focus on the most essential of their services such as end of life care. 

Clowndoctors have built meaningful relationships with children, families and staff over a number of years, many of whom are feeling the loss of our visits deeply. We can bring some much-needed relief, overcoming physical barriers to maintain direct contact with children and to extend the reach directly to children and families in their own homes. In response to the pandemic we have created new innovative ways to continue to support the most vulnerable.

CHAS has turned to Hearts & Minds Clowndoctor programme to deliver a new virtual service that reaches out to those children in isolation. We have become an essential element in their ‘virtual hospice’ as a means to engage and support children who are isolating at home and whose mental wellbeing may be severely affected. Our initial pilot has been a huge success as they look to create the first ‘virtual hospice’ in the UK. Indeed, Robin House – their facility in Balloch – has asked that we double the visits from weekly to twice weekly. All practitioners have received additional 1 day safeguarding training specific to online activities.

We are able to deliver live 15-minutes sessions tailored for each child for around 5 children and their families in each session. We receive detailed information on child’s age, medical condition, sensitivities, likes and dislikes and other relevant information.

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Based on that, two Clowndoctors work together as a pair to create a bespoke session that closely mirrors our normal face-to-face interactions, playing off cues from the child to decide whether it is more suitable to use gentle techniques with song and rhythm, or more robust slapstick and noise. It is important that each interaction is tailored to the needs of each child. Participants are able to log-on at a specified time for their Clowndoctor visit and in this way, we can engage with individuals directly into their homes, residential areas or hospital.

Creating moments of pure joy and human connection can have a hugely positive effect on mental wellbeing. As one mother whose child was self-isolating described: “It is a very stressful situation for everyone… The virtual visit has provided invaluable emotional support.” Ultimately, playfulness, empathy and kindness are at the heart of everything we do – and we are immensely proud of what we have achieved this year.