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Movement for mental wellbeing and physical recovery

Building a new hospital from scratch gives us the chance to think about the wellbeing of patients, families, and staff, from the very start. Creating indoor and outdoor spaces that are designed for children and teenagers is a key part of our holistic approach to care. This year Mental Health Awareness Week is all about movement.

a teenage boy with short dark hair and a black t shirt hugging close to his dad who has short dark hair, glasses and a blue polo shirt
Will and his dad, Dan, found a shared love of pool after playing in hospital

At 16, Will is finally back in full time education, after his entire secondary school experience was disrupted. First by Covid, then by Cancer.

Diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia at the age of 13 and again at 14, Will from Baldock in Hertfordshire spent the best part of three years in hospital. He was the first child to have a bone marrow transplant at Addenbrooke’s Hospital.

Movement and keeping active, whenever he was well enough, was crucial for Will’s mental health. He learnt to play pool in the ward’s social area. It became his lifeline. He and his dad, Dan, still play together every week in their local pub, Will now winning more than he loses.

A teenage boy in hospital next to a pool table with teenage Cancer Trust written on it
Will still loves playing pool after learning in hospital

That pool table gave us both time to be normal. Not the family with cancer, just two guys playing pool, gloating when you win, making up excuses when you lose. A chance to escape just a little bit from discussions about all the medical stuff.

Dan Grocott, Will's dad

“For me, it was so valuable to spend some time each evening alone," Dan adds, "I referred to it as my emotional support table. Playing pool helped me to process everything that had gone on.”

Cambridge Children’s Hospital - the first specialist children's hospital for the East of England - will have dedicated teenage spaces, for relaxation and socialising. For rehabilitation, the new hospital will have two child-centred gyms and therapeutic playrooms.

Close up of the drawing in the sketchbook
Kate uses art to reflect on her child's journey after a life-changing accident

Kate’s son was 11 when he was hit by a school bus and suffered a severe traumatic brain injury. After weeks in hospital, he then needed to relearn everything that used to be second nature. His mental health, particularly his sense of self and confidence, was severely impacted.

As part of a neuro-rehab trial, he and his brother did Kung Fu, incorporating physiotherapy with social skills.

We called it ‘rehab in disguise’ because it normalised the process. It rebuilt their mental and physical health, but, most importantly, my children rebuilt their relationship.

Kate Gravett

Coming to terms with a new personality after the accident, Kate’s eldest child found purpose and identity through Kung Fu and is now an instructor, teaching the martial art to children with extra needs.

David Young is an inpatient physiotherapist at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. He believes physiotherapists play a key role in supporting physical and mental health, including for parents.

“After a child has been very still and protected, the physiotherapists are the ones who get them moving", says David. “This can be challenging for children and their parents, so we need to be considerate of feelings and emotions.”

David is currently doing a PhD in health science research. He is exploring digital tools that will empower parents to manage their child’s rehab back at home, which, in turn, will help their mental wellbeing.

Hospital and garden
Outdoor space will be dotted throughout all levels of the new hospital, with a large garden at the back

Children and their families have told the Cambridge Children’s Hospital project team that they want access to fresh air and nature, which is why the new hospital has been designed with outside spaces on all levels.

Retired oncologist Dr Denise Williams, who is working on the Cambridge Children’s hospital project, said this will provide an important distraction for patients.

“They’re in a strange environment. They’re not mixing with their friends. They're not at school. They're not doing all the normal things in life but, actually, being outside is normal at home, whether it's playing in the garden, walking to school or doing school sports. Integrating a bit of outside space and outside activities into hospital is key to healthy living.”

Kate remembers the first time her child’s hospital bed was wheeled outside. The family felt revived by the fresh air, but then something remarkable happened.

“My son was still very much bedridden and finding it incredibly hard to sit up or respond to people. But outside, suddenly, he sat up by himself! At that moment, we recognised our child again. This moment held the same emotional resonance as his first steps. It was a new milestone, and we all felt it.”