We’re reflecting on 25 years of child bereavement support as we prepare to mark our Silver Anniversary in style with a celebratory ball later this month.
Founded in 1998 by a group of volunteers made up of counsellors, social workers and other professionals working in palliative care, Holding On Letting Go is now a registered charity offering bereavement support to children across Kent and South East London, works in partnership with other organisations, goes into schools, and trains other professionals whose jobs are, or may be, touched by bereavement.
The ball – time to celebrate!
To celebrate this important birthday and all it has achieved, HOLG is inviting friends, families and supporters to join us at their Silver Ball at Priestfield Stadium on Friday 22nd September, with all profits going to the charity.
In the UK, child bereavement is not funded by Government so HOLG is completely reliant on donations from our generous fundraisers and corporate supporters, as well as the work of our amazing team of volunteers – but ongoing support is always needed. To help the charity continue for another 25 years, as well as buying ball tickets, we are asking businesses and members of the public to consider donating time or funds this year to support our important work.
The need for our services rises every year; in 2020, the number of referrals doubled compared with 2019.
CEO Caroline Ford explains: “Firstly, a huge thank you to everyone who has raised money or given up their time over the years. We simply could not have reached this amazing milestone without them.
“We can’t wait for our wonderful celebratory 25th Silver Ball which will not only be a lovely night out and a chance to celebrate where we’ve got to, but also an opportunity to raise money too.
“If you can’t make the ball, then you can buy raffle tickets online – we have some fantastic prizes. There are lots of other ways to support us financially – we have a monthly draw, fundraising events, consider corporate support or including us in your will. Attend our events, talk about us, let people know, get involved with our socials or help us raise money when you shop online – all support, big and small is welcomed!
“Unresolved childhood grief is a known cause of mental, physical and emotional issues which can have major consequences throughout life, but there is still little professional support available to children and the families who come to us, see amazing and vital changes after we have supported them.
“We’d urge anyone touched by our work, or who wants to help a child experiencing one of the most difficult times of their lives to support the ball – we’re looking forward to a sell-out night!”
HOLG potted history, today and the near future
Headquartered in Rochester but working across Kent and South East London, the charity was formed by a group of healthcare professionals as a voluntary service, after they identified a lack of children’s bereavement support.
They were frequently asked by families where to go for child bereavement support but there wasn’t any available and so HOLG was founded, with the aim of helping young people to cope with their grief and help families to understand child bereavement alongside their own, to be able to look to the future.
Structured bereavement support
The very first of our signature bereavement support weekends was held at Demelza House Children’s Hospice in Sittingbourne in September 1998, increasing to three the following year. (Demelza House is still used regularly).
They are now held as a two-day or one-day non-residential event, filled with creative activities, craft, music and games-based activities. For some children, it is the first time meeting other bereaved children – and their isolation often ends; someone else understands how they feel.
Many children arrive afraid, apprehensive and completely bereft, having been through the trauma of a death at such a young age; but their parents frequently tell us that they take a different child home and the family dynamic changes for the better in the days, weeks and months after.
By 2004, HOLG had become a registered charity and key funding from organisations such as The Friends of The Wisdom Hospice, BBC Children in Need, Global, Kent Community Foundation, and The National Lottery Community Fund helped the charity to grow its team. We receive no government funding – our services rely on donations, fundraising, grants and legacies.
Demand and development
Over the years, the number of annual support weekends has grown steadily, and today, 11 are held each year. Much of our achievements are thanks to our team of committed and some longstanding volunteers, which now totals 80.
A special thank you event was recently held in their honour with certificates given for 5, 10, 15 and 20 years’ service.
Having helped thousands of families in the last quarter century, HOLG’s aim remains the same; to ensure every bereaved child receives the support they need to be able to hold onto the precious memories and let go of the sad ones.
Today, we continue to provide a specialist service, not only to children after a death, but also when a death is expected. Specialist weekends are also held for sudden deaths after a suicide, accident, or murder.
Parent & Carer support
There is also a parent and carer group run alongside the children’s weekend to help them to understand their child’s grief and better support them in the future. This group often becomes a support network for those in the group as they find their way through child bereavement, and their own grief, together.
Throughout 2022-23, we have also extended our bereavement cafés, providing a childcare provision so that parents and carers can meet others in similar situations and get the support they need.
Soon to launch is a series of podcasts aimed at families seeking help in the early days, weeks and months following a death. At 10-18 minutes in length, the podcasts provide bitesize information for adults.
Topics include breaking the news of a death, talking to children about sudden and traumatic death, explaining funerals, self-care tips, and advice on practicalities such as help with wills, insurances and benefits.
The pandemic saw a change to services – we were allowed to continue operating as a vital service, but had to switch to digital methods; something we would never have previously considered, but it was a choice of digital support or no support and families needed to be supported, even if it was a phone call or video call instead of a face-to-face meeting.
Video meetings are now a convenient choice offered to the families we support, to ensure we are delivering a service that meets their needs.
HOLG works with a number of organisations to ensure support is available to families at every touch point of their grief experience. Recently, the Integrated Care Board (ICB) has funded a Kent & Medway education project for paediatric end of life care, providing free of charge training to professionals supporting, or in contact with families facing a palliative care diagnosis, and later bereavement when a child has died.
Working alongside Demelza House, Ellenor Hospice, and The Hospice in the Weald, the training is vital for offering professionals in healthcare, social services, schools and the police a unique insight into the journey of a family through life-limiting illness and beyond.