By her own admission, Hailey Allen has found her vocation in life.
As an EACH Play Specialist, she has a role that is “right up her street” – fun, creative and hugely rewarding. Hailey, based at The Treehouse, supports children and young people through play, either at home, in a community setting or by spending time with them during their stay at the hospice.
Her sessions are relaxed and flexible, ranging from story-telling, cooking and using sensory equipment to fun with musical equipment, sand and water, food items like pasta and construction blocks such as Lego and Duplo.
“I love working with children,” said Hailey.
“If ever I have to do any training or group work with adults, it’s really out of my comfort zone. However, give me a group of children and that’s when I’m at my happiest. When you tell people you work for a hospice, they think it must be sad. They ask how I cope.
“I just see it as a real privilege, to be here to try and make children and their families happy or play some part in making their lives a little easier or supported. Being that support is a special feeling and I love seeing joy through a child’s eyes, or watching them experience something for the first time. It might be something like a silly noise that makes them chuckle and that’s lovely to share and witness.
“Obviously, there are sad days but what we provide is something people can’t get anywhere else and a lot of that revolves around giving families time and space. It’s a unique place to work.”
Hailey always knew she wanted to work with children and has a degree in creative and expressive therapies. She started working in nurseries and then as a care assistant in a hospital, but soon realised she wasn’t suited to a more clinical role. Then the role of Play Assistant came up at EACH. That was 11 years ago, before The Treehouse had been built when Ipswich’s hospice was at The Bungalow.
Since then she has progressed to Play Worker and now, as of 2021, Play Specialist.
“I didn’t know what to expect, having only ever been in an adult hospice,” said Hailey, who has two children and lives in Stowmarket.
“But when I first walked in, I was pleasantly surprised. It was such a nice, warm and welcoming family environment. Over the last ten years the role has developed and I’ve had lots of exciting opportunities. It’s been a natural progression. My job is very varied and, as lots of people say here, no two days are the same.
“Some of my time is spent on the care floor, supporting the staff and making sure they have appropriate play activities for the children. We also take one-to-one referral work, for children who have an identified need around play. It might be a child with a degenerative condition, where parents are finding it hard to find different ways of playing with them.
“We might do some sessions to help support that family, providing activities. We also dip into the events side of things, like the siblings day, which runs five times a year. We do lots of activities at sibling day, I think it is important for them to spend time with other siblings that have a brother or sister that have used, or are using, the hospice. That includes bereaved and non-bereaved children.
“I think people can have a bit of a misconception. A lot of families hear the word ‘hospice’ and don’t always want to accept it. However, what we often find is that those who step through the door are often massively surprised – even shocked – by what they discover on the other side. They’re often a bit disappointed that they didn’t give it a chance earlier.
“It’s joyful, happy and positive. There’s a lovely energy and, as a team, we’re like an extended family providing a full circle of support for families. It’s wonderful to be part of it.”