Treetops celebrates 15 years of helping families when they need it most
Sunshine streams into a brightly painted kitchen and sitting area from large windows high above the city that give panoramic views of the greenery of Weston Park.
You would never know you were in a hospital.
And that’s what makes all the difference for the families staying at Treetop House at Sheffield Children’s Hospital.
The facility – celebrating its 15-year anniversary this week – provides accommodation for the families of children who are being treated at the hospital.
The rooms are run by the Sick Children’s Trust, which is calling for help to raise awareness and much-needed funds.
Shameem Aktar, aged 46, describes Treetop House as ‘second home’. Her daughter Hajrah, now aged four, has been in and out of the hospital since she was a baby as she has a metabolic disorder.
In the last two years she has been a regular there – her longest spell was 122 days from September 2015 until January this year.
Shameem, who has chronic kidney disease herself, said Treetop House has been a ‘blessing’.
Living in Darnall and traipsing back and forth to see Hajrah, was exhausting for Shameem as well as the paralysing fear that the worst would happen while she was away from her baby.
Hajrah’s condition is complex and can change quickly.
Shameem said: “I struggled so much. I have the confidence to leave her and know she will be OK and I am not far away. I never used to go home and I damaged my health.
“Now, I can pop in whenever I want. With the staff here, it’s like I’m getting a free counselling session with them as well. They always put a positive spin on things, they are brilliant.
It’s not just about the accommodation, they are so approachable and I really appreciate them.”
Treetop House has meant Shameem can return to some form of normality.
She said: “I can get a home-cooked meal now and sleep. It’s like a home from home. You can forget that you’re in hospital, the whole atmosphere is different.
“The other day we actually sat down as a family and had a proper family meal. It was brilliant to do that. We hadn’t done it in such a long time.
“It sounds silly but it is the little things that make a big difference, anything that gives a sense of normality.”
And the hard-working staff themselves agree with Shameem – Treetop House is a special place to be.
Sue Cartwright opened the facility as the house manager 15 years ago and has been dedicating her life to it ever since.
She said: “I have never had a Monday morning or Friday feeling.
“The key purpose is to keep families together, the support from staff is phenomenal. More staff have been here longer than 10 years, more than most companies keep theirs.
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“They work hard to raise money to keep this place going.
“Thousands of people have passed through the door and it’s just gone from strength to strength, it has been an amazing journey.
“Clearly, the fact that it is still here proves how important it is in a hospital for so many families who travel long distances.
“You do not want to be travelling backwards and forwards when young children are in intensive care.”
This is something Sue knows only too well. Her son had major bowel surgery at 10 months old at Sheffield Children’s Hospital, in the years before Treetop was opened.
She was forced to catch the last bus home at night and the first bus back in the morning.
“My experience with my son was very hard and it just means so much that you’re helping someone to stay with their children,” she said.
New mum Sarah Shepherd is especially grateful for this – she said Treetop has helped her ‘feel like a parent’.
Her daughter Olivia, now 18 weeks old, has Beckwith Wiedermann syndrome, a rare overgrowth syndrome.
Olivia has needed constant care since her birth.
Sarah said: “I’m a first- time parent and I would have missed out on so much if I wasn’t near to Olivia. She is growing so quickly and I don’t have to miss out on that.
“It is also a place to come and have a cup of tea and a bit of normality.
“It’s so expensive to keep getting takeaways too. The kitchen here means I can cook and it has really helped financially.
“It can be quite upsetting and we’ve made some good friends while staying here, they know what I’m going through.”