A story by Team Jak Foundation
Mini Denners is a “nursery” experience for our children under 5 with cancer, their siblings and carers from Jak’s Den, Livingston and Aberdeen. Activities include music, story time, messy play, crafts and snack allows our children to experience the joy and wonder of early years and we also provide pampers for their carers.
What Mini Denners did
Mini Denners provided 2 hour creative sessions in Jak’s Den HQ and Jak's Den Aberdeen and via online for our under 5's with cancer and their siblings. Each session has a theme and includes safe messy play, musical activities- singing, dance and percussion instruments along with toys and other props required for songs, drama games, storytelling (with props) arts and crafts, safe outdoor play experiences, construction activities, Lego, dressing up, small world play, IT, playdough and personal and social development opportunities including snack time and ongoing seasonal activities.
The sessions work well led by our fabulous Play Leader, Play Worker and Volunteers. During this time parents/carers relax in our Family Zone with a coffee in a lidded flask mug for safety and chat with other parents knowing their children are safe in the next Zone. The highlight for the parents is that they can take advantage of alternative and relaxation therapies from our Pamper pod or just relax and socialise with others and staff are on hand for any emotional support required during this time.
We have invested in a number of resources to make this successful including messy play trays and musical instruments. Through Mini Denners we addressed the target area of under 5s through mutual benefit, personalisation, targeted support and added value.
We are honoured that carers see us as their "nursery alternative" when their child is unable to attend due to their illness and that they report improvement in mood and socialisation skills in their child as a result of their sessions. This coming year we hope to further add value by providing little music sacks to each child for music time and continue to develop exciting messy play tuff tray themes.
What Team Jak Foundation has learned
We have learned that whilst we can plan and budget that this is a cyclical session where sometimes we have more children than others depending on a number of factors including how well the children are on the day. In Aberdeen we have less under 5s so this is an area we will continue to work with but on a smaller scale until this age range is involved once more. As a result of us working in partnership with Glasgow and Edinburgh hospitals and being back on the wards our numbers have increased which is very special. We were very grateful to have been given the opportunity to create a Mini Denners video which we have shared with supporters and funders alike as a result of our Better Breaks funding thank you so much.
How Team Jak Foundation has benefitted from the funding
We were honoured that through funding from Better Breaks we were able to strengthen and develop our Mini Denners project and take aspects of it into the wards and houses as required alongside providing more activities within Jaks Den. We were able to strengthen our reputation as a result of the wonderful video commissioned by Better Breaks which has allowed the public a real insight into our under 5s work.
15 children will regularly attend direct sessions in Jaks Den and many more online and in hospital and at CLIC and gain confidence in socialisation and feel more confident experiencing a variety of creative activities with peers in a safe and sterile environment.
19 children regularly attended towards the end of the project having built up week on week post covid. We have become busier as a direct result of providing support on the wards in Glasgow and Edinburgh and seeing how much fun they have and hearing carers report on better mood and better socialisation skills has been an honour.
H had to be taken out of nursery to start treatment so was unable to play with her friends, and since she was diagnosed during the pandemic we as a family were completely isolated from everyone. After meeting Jaks den staff on the ward they made us aware of Jaks den in Livingston. We were very nervous on our first visit as we hadn’t really had the chance to interact with other families going through a similar situation but H was so excited as she knew she would have a good time as any time Jaks den staff were on the ward they always made such an effort to chat with her and make her smile. Jaks den is a wonderful safe place and has became a lifeline to us as a family. H has been able to interact again with children her own age and make lifelong friends. As well it has gave us as parents the opportunity to meet other families in similar situations which helps us not feel alone in this awful journey. The staff are always so welcoming, and comforting I cannot speak highly enough of them all. They are always coming up with lots of fun activities and themes for everyone to get involved with and we will be forever grateful for everything they do.
We will have a regular group of attendees – at least 20 carers at Jaks Den and more at hospital and CLIC sessions. Carers will attend Mini Denners regularly and receive support in form of coffee and chat, pamper and relaxation therapies.
23 carers attended regularly and reported feelings of relief and vindication hearing other carers stories and knowing they are not alone. Carers also really appreciate their pamper session in the pod where they can choose from a back massage or facial which for some is like gold dust as they never get time for themselves due to their child's journey.
One Mum hasnt slept in her own bed since their child began treatment and struggles with separation anxiety as a result of her child's treatment. It took a few weeks before she felt comfortable enough to leave her child to go for a pamper but once she did she's always first on the list for the next week. She reports as feeling "totally chilled" and uplifted, refreshed and ready to face the next hurdle on her child's cancer journey thanks to Mini Denners.
70-90+ Carers will feel less isolated. They will share with others about the benefits of the sessions, and be more confident in their everyday journey having a safe place to relax and be themselves .
89 carers attended in person and online sessions throughout the year and commented on how the peer support from others that just "get it" has been more valuable to them than some family and friend support.
"This is my happy place" "This is our safe place where I can bring A along to but I know I can relax and feel as normal as I ever will on this journey whilst at Jak's Den. It's so good to just be able to sit with others that understand what's going on and how you feel and even though our journeys are different we just " get each other- thank you Jak's Den".
80+ children and their carers will have attended our sessions in person and online and as a result be more confident in themselves and have built a wider social group and developed knowledge and experience of activities available within Jak’s Den, pop-ups, outreach covid permitting and online
138 children and carers have attended sessions and have reported feeling supported on their journey, happier when leaving Jaks Den, and more confident in every day life.
All of the families who started off only attending Mini Denners have now engaged in other Team Jak services and activities including Big Breakfast monthly, Friday lunch club and other Fun activities and events in person and online. Some parents now attend our yoga and mindfulness sessions as a result also.