Mel, of Wigan, works with the young people who visit The Lodge at Derian House – and has done so for 26 years.
“Time has flown – it feels like 10 maybe 15 years. A whole 26 years doesn’t sound real.” Said Mel.
“My daughter was 8 months old when I started at Derian and she’s got her own little baby now. It’s when you look at things like that you think it really has been a long time.”
With a background in nursery nursing and working with young children, Mel, then 21, took a different direction to work with teenagers and young people at the hospice.
“I began as a nursery nurse – that was my background. But when I started working at Derian, I wasn’t that much older than the young people who were accessing Derian. I had never worked with this age group before and I really clicked with them, I could relate to many of their issues as they were just typical young adult concerns. It was almost like we grew up together because I was still so young myself.
“During my time at Derian, I have seen so many advances in medicine and treatments meaning that the number of young people we support is growing and growing, hence why the Lodge was built in 2010.
“I love working with young people – you get to see them grow. You see the early teens, who love being silly and making jokes, then go through the grumpy teenage stage, the hormone surges, and the I-hate-everything-and-everybody stage. But with support and encouragement it’s great to see them becoming more independent, making their own choices, building aspirations for the future and finding their own voice and identity.
“Some of my favourite memories were the Christmas parties.” Continued Mel.
“We would always have a theme. One time we had a movie theme and we all dressed up – including the staff – who all went in Austin Powers themed outfits. Two brothers came dressed as the Blues Brothers. We had Beetlejuice, a nun from Sister Act, Jessy from Toy Story, James Bond, even Chucky, there was never a half-hearted attempt with the costumes.
“Another time we had a medieval banquet theme and everyone came in full medieval costume. We even had some of the cast of Hollyoaks attend and some jesters who came from the Camelot theme park. They put on a full act for us – it was brilliant.
“We always had an amazing night at those parties.” Said Mel.
“The young people always know how to have fun. Before we had the Lodge we would have teenage takeover weekends at the hospice including swimming, gaming, karaoke, a fun day out on the Saturday, then later we’d have a movie or pizza night. It just allowed them to be themselves without the restrictions of fitting in with family life, especially bedtimes. They were usually very late nights and a late lie-in. Many friendships were made on those weekends that lasted right through the years.
“As a Youth Worker I try my best to fulfil any requests from the young people to enable them to create special memories. One such request was going to do an indoor high ropes course. The course had been adapted to support anyone with a physical disability. I’d like to say the lads we took were pushed out of their comfort zone, but they weren’t. I thought I’d be stood at the bottom taking the photos but they said to me if they were going up – I was too. That was definitely the scariest thing I have ever been roped into. The lads thought it was hilarious and continued to tease me about it for years afterwards.
“The Pet Therapy weeks were also a firm favourite. We saw everything from bunnies and guinea pigs that were able to sit on the children’s laps, to snakes, lizards and spiders that would always make the staff disappear. The most surreal was when we had some of the cast of Emmerdale visit along with baby lambs in the lounge and some baby ducklings in a paddling pool!
“Derian has changed a lot over the years, but what we do is still the same.” Said Mel.
“The Lodge has always been about promoting independence, seeing the young person first, enabling young people to experiment and have the same opportunities and life experiences that any other person their age is given so freely but still in a supportive, safe and age appropriate environment. They know there’s always help and support around them when they need it.
“And what does any young person want? They want to be with their mates. They don’t want to do everything with their parents. They can do that at Derian – they can just be themselves.
“I don’t even think once over the last 26 years I have ever thought that I would like to do something else. It has always just been this. There is something you can’t put your finger on about Derian – but if you know, you know.
“I have known so many young people over the years – we have laughed a lot, we have cried a lot but there’s nothing I love more than recalling all the amazing memories, there is something so special about that.”