Art of making a difference is our cup of tea

Founder Laura Young with artist John Byrne

Founder Laura Young with artist John Byrne

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Laura Young says that when her eight-year-old daughter died, it “undoubtedly helped” to throw herself into a project that would ease other children’s pain.

Her idea was to start up a charity that would give chronically-ill children an artistic outlet while they were receiving treatment, to relax them and give them someone to talk to, enabling doctors to do their job.

But she and co-founder and husband John had been advised against it.

“Our solicitor told us that he wasn’t going to let another grieving family set up a charity,” said Laura, “and instead we should donate money to a charity that provided the service already.

“When we told him that it didn’t exist, he was very good and we got things going.”

After a year of fundraising in 2010, The Teapot Trust 
was born.

It provides art therapy for children who have a long-term illness, either in hospitals, hospices or outpatient clinics.

With the help of qualified art therapists, and with a particular remit to help children with rheumatological conditions, sessions provide an opportunity to express and deal with feelings, helping children to feel more in control and cope with their condition.

After just five years, The Teapot Trust is an award-winning charity, admired by parents and medics alike.

It now operates in seven Scottish towns and cities – Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen, Inverness, Kirkcaldy and Melrose, plus Great Ormond Street Hospital 
in London.

In 2015, it delivered 3000 hours of art therapy, interacting with over 5200 children and 1000 families.

And recognitionhas rightly come flooding in.

Laura was awarded an MBE in the New Years Honours list in 2015 for services to chronically-ill children in Scotland.

She was also named as Tesco’s Charitable Mum of the Year in 2014 and received an honorary doctorate from Queen Margaret University six months ago.

Laura and John have also been named as Points of Light by David Cameron and the charity received a welcome boost of £20,000 after artist John Byrne auctioned off one of his paintings.

It’s an overwhelming success, one East Lothian-based Laura said she can’t quite believe.

“It’s very rewarding to see the charity’s work recognised,” said Laura.

“We knew that there was and is a need for this.”

Laura and John’s second of three daughters, Verity, suffered from Lupus (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus) 
and cancer before her 
death in 2009.

During her all-too short life, Verity had to cope with her illness, constant injections, tests and the effects of her treatment.

Laura said: “Art gave Verity a way of expressing herself and was essential as a coping strategy for the whole family.

“Verity’s sisters – Nina (15) and Isla (9) – knew what art meant to Verity and what she got out of it.

“I know that whether Verity had lived or died, we wanted to go on and provide art therapy for rheumatology patients and raise awareness of Lupus.

“It undoubtedly helped setting up the charity and doing and seeing something positive come out of it, otherwise it would have been such a waste.

“When you lose a child, you also lose your job.

“I was a full-time carer to my child, so not only are you dealing with the loss of your child but also your job and that’s really hard.”

The first art therapy session was at Edinburgh’s Royal Hospital for Sick Children’s rheumatology group in September, 2011, swiftly followed in March 2012 at Yorkhill Hospital.

Due to its popularity, it now runs within half of all Scotland’s health authorities.

Sessions are led by qualified art therapists – psychotherapists using art as a medium to address issues like stress and anxiety.

Laura said: “When children are at the art table, they’re not thinking that they are frightened of needles or worrying about what’s 
going to happen.

“They are free to do whatever they want, They can take a trip through their own imagination.”

Art therapy works in groups or one-to-one.

Drop-in art tables can distract children from worrying about treament, while art therapists working one-on-one with children can work through their frustrations and fears.

Laura added: “It’s very palpable. If you sit with any child or teenager and ask them how they feel, or say things like, ‘it must be hard having arthritis’, they don’t really say much.

“But as soon as you start doing something like drawing a picture, they are sitting with someone who is not examining them – a neutral person involved with their art.

“It’s then the child starts to make a positive association with treatment.”

Earlier this month, the Teapot Trust won Charity of The Year (income under £250,000) and Children’s Charity of The Year at the Charity Champions Awards.

But keeping it all going is arduous.

Laura said: “It’s all- consuming. Worrying about how you are going to fund it never leaves you.

“You get to the point you have the finance for one year’s projects and then you immediately start worrying about the next year.”

Running the Teapot Trust costs £230,000 a year.

The charity receives no statutory funding and is reliant on donations, grants and fundraising.

If it expands as it wants to in St John’s Hospital in Livingston, the cost will jump to £250,000.

Laura added: “We are so grateful to those who support us – our trustees, and people who fundraise for us by holding tea parties to running marathons.

“I want to thank them, it really is a team effort.”

To support the charity 
or learn more, visit www.
teapot-trust.org.