Life can be busy when your family includes a child with a life-limiting condition, but not many families in this situation can have answered the doorbell to find a fully-fledged BBC film crew on the doorstep. Three local families recently did just that so as to shine a spotlight on the work of Rennie Grove Hospice Care’s Children’s Hospice at Home Service as part of the annual BBC Children in Need Appeal show.
The five-strong crew including a producer, camera man and sound man, were welcomed by the families following a raft of preparatory phone calls, meetings and emails involving the families, Rennie Grove and Children in Need staff.
There followed 16 hours of filming, which was finally edited down to the five minute piece on this year’s live show where millions of viewers followed children’s hospice at home nurse Francesca Lennon as she visited three families in the local area.
Rennie Grove is enormously grateful to the families and to Francesca for generously agreeing to be part of the film illustrating the reasons why BBC Children in Need has awarded Rennie Grove a three-year grant to help fund a children’s nurse.
All three families rose to the challenge of accommodating a film crew despite the difficulties they face day to day.
One family described how they found the filming very exciting. Shailza, mum to Riley, aged 5, and Stanley, aged 4, who both have a very rare genetic condition involving a duplication of an X chromosome, said:
“Riley just loved the camera and didn’t stop laughing from start to finish. He wasn’t fazed at all by the big light they put outside. Stanley didn’t really know what was going on to start with but he soon settled when Francesca picked him up and gave him a cuddle. Both boys just adore Francesca and are so excited whenever she comes to visit. For us, knowing that the Rennie Grove children’s team is there to offer practical care and support 24 hours a day is so reassuring and I hope I managed to get this across in the film.
“We all found it a really enjoyable experience and the film crew were so polite and considerate, especially with the children. They put me at ease straight away by saying that I must interrupt at any time if I was worried about the boys at all – but in fact everything went really smoothly, although I couldn’t really remember afterwards what I said!”
Francesca and the film crew also visited another family to talk to Jess, aged 8, who was diagnosed with a brain tumour when she was just 13 months old. Jess’s mum, Sam, told us:
“Because Jess has spent so much of her life in hospital, she is very comfortable around adults and she took the filming completely in her stride. In fact, she was so much in her comfort zone that I remember thinking I have never seen her so happy. She didn’t need any time to warm to the crew – she just went straight into it. She absolutely loved every minute. I was a little worried that she might get stressed and there was a chance that this could bring on one of her mini-strokes, but that didn’t happen. She was absolutely fine and slept really well that night.
“Out of the two of us, I was definitely the one who was most nervous about the filming. Rennie Grove’s children’s hospice at home team has helped us so much over the years, I really wanted to make sure that I covered everything. But the crew helped me relax and if I felt that I hadn’t said something right, I was able to say and we could do it again. Even afterwards I kept thinking of other things I could have said though. All in all it was a really lovely day and I have to say that it opened my eyes to see how Jess coped in that situation. I’m even thinking that she might like drama lessons!”
Another local family also answered the special knock at the door and there was much excitement as Helen and Simon and their children, Milly, Jack and Theo welcomed Francesca and the crew into their home. Jack, aged 4, suffered brain damage at birth and now has cerebral palsy, uncontrolled epilepsy and is severely sight impaired. Helen said:
“It was definitely exciting to be part of the film. The crew were all very nice and really put you at ease. Obviously Jack can’t talk for himself, so Simon and I were the focus of the filming. To be honest, I did find it a bit draining emotionally because they wanted to talk about the real hardships of having a son with a life-limiting condition, but even though there are many hardships, I don’t really like to think about it like that. When Jack was younger, we had a particularly hard time until we discovered that he was suffering with silent reflux. Once this had been treated, our lovely son emerged and we’re just so grateful that he is now such a happy boy and that we have wonderful support from Francesca and the rest of the team at Rennie Grove.”
Reflecting on her day in the spotlight, Francesca, who lives in Chenies, said:
“It was a very long and intensive day but it was fascinating to see how films like this are made. I was a little nervous generally and particularly about going into the families’ homes with a film crew but actually it was fine. It did take quite a long time to set up in each house and it was a bit nerve-wracking having the crew in the car with me while I was driving.
“I was very impressed that the crew really cared about getting the right message across in the film and wanted to be able to focus on the nursing side of what I do. They filmed me performing chest physiotherapy and giving feeds through gastrostomies as well as engaging with the children and having some fun.
“I was really looking forward to the part of the day when they interviewed me as I was so keen to get across the importance of the support we give to our families and how vital our 24 hour service is to them. I did get a bit nervous though, so I hope I did it justice. At the end of the day, the crew seemed very pleased with how everything had gone and were very confident that the film would be good. They must have been happy with it, because they also invited me up to the show and I met Tess Daly!”
Katie Mohun, a healthcare assistant from the Rennie Grove Children’s Hospice at Home team who supported Francesca with the children on the day said:
“I was pleased to be able to be there to support Francesca and look after the children, particularly while the parents were being interviewed. Francesca did so well and it was really interesting to see how the crew go about making films like this.”
Andrea Lambert, Head of Children’s Services at Rennie Grove, was full of praise for the families: “We are so grateful to all three families for agreeing to take part in the filming and talk about the support we give them. I would also like to thank BBC Children in Need, firstly for the grant which helps fund Francesca’s role but also for raising awareness of our work with local children. It has been a pleasure to be involved with BBC Children in Need and we hope that this year’s appeal has proved to be a bumper year, enabling them to carry on funding crucial projects which support children around the country.”
If you missed the BBC Children in Need film about Francesca, you can view it on the BBC Children in Need YouTube channel or on BBC iPlayer for 30 days. To find out more about the work of the Rennie Grove Children’s Hospice at Home Team, please go to www.renniegrove.org/childrensstories.