Cultivating a place of peace and kindness

1st August 2008 at 01:00
Pupils from Torry Academy in Aberdeen have spent part of their activities week tidying the grounds of a hospice in the city

Mikey Cox, 14, never forgot the kindness nurses showed to his grandad last summer. So when he heard his school was going to do maintenance work in the grounds of Roxburghe House, in Aberdeen, Mikey was determined to be included.

His grandad, Norman Cox, died at home not long after his stay here, but Mikey has good memories of this place, and today he has got his sleeves rolled up and is already covered in paint.

Roxburghe House is a palliative care centre in a beautiful setting in the heart of Aberdeen - a secret sanctuary up a quiet road with lovely grounds and gardens for patients and their visitors.

Mikey remembers his visits here. "It was nice when I came to see him; all the nurses were really kind and took good care of my grandad," says the third-year pupil at Torry Academy in Aberdeen.

"I took craft and design and my grandad told me how to do all this. He was a chief engineer on a ship in the merchant navy, says Mikey.

Fourteen pupils are outside in the sun, varnishing garden furniture, weeding and tidying pathways and patios in the gardens as part of their activities week. Alan Miller, a support for learning teacher at Torry Academy, is impressed at how much they are achieving.

"This is a special place, I was careful to stress the importance and the purpose of it, because you can't just bring a group of teenagers to a hospice without some preparation. They've got to know the place and what it is about," he says.

He is pleased at their diligence and respect for the setting - they are not usually this quiet on their home territory. "They're showing such an awareness of the fact that today is not a day to shout and scream; today's a day where you put your head down and get on with the work," says Mr Miller.

"We've had great weather for it, but the kids have been brilliant. They've worked so hard, harder than sometimes they do at school and for the most part without complaint," he says with a smile.

Coming here has significance for Mr Miller too. Both his parents were cared for until their deaths in a centre like this, also called Roxburghe House, in Dundee.

"My dad died in 1992, when I was 17, two months before I went to university, and my mum died five days before I started at Torry Academy six years ago," he says.

This visit has been organised as part of the school's activities programme, in an effort to find more affordable ventures for pupils. "The bulk of the activities seemed to be ones that incurred a cost - maybe not a big cost, but they ranged from pound;5 to pound;10 up to pound;80 for the three days," Mr Miller explains.

Neighbouring oil company Total works in a partnership with the school and helped set up the visit and treated the team to their picnic lunch.

"A few of the kids here are in my social and vocational skills class and we can hopefully also use this as their "provide a service" experience for their Standard grade," he says.

The patients were impressed with their efforts. "They've put their heart into it. We hear about the bad but never about the good things kids do," says Edith Gow, one of the day-unit patients.

She is out for a walk with one of the friends she has made here, Marion Dick. "When you're diagnosed and they say you can go to Roxburghe, nobody wants to go, but it's wonderful once you're here," says Mrs Gow. "They're just so kind and the grounds are so beautiful."

One of the pupils, 13-year-old Christopher Robertson, has decided he wants to come back as a volunteer over the summer holidays and help in the garden. The Roxburghe House voluntary services manager, Mandy Urquhart, recruits and co-ordinates volunteers who help here and is hoping she will be able to take him up on his offer.

She and the nursing staff are impressed with the new look the pupils have already given to some of the tired-looking garden furniture and the now pristine patio. "We've got 140 volunteers at the moment who are involved in driving people to the day unit and assisting visitors with transport if they have difficulty getting here," Mrs Urquhart says.

Volunteers here carry out a range of tasks and among the younger recruits are older school pupils hoping to study medicine, who want some experience of helping out in a medical setting.

"It's something to help other people because they would have helped us if they had the chance," says Christopher. "I heard it was a hospice and we've got to be very quiet, and Mr Miller said enjoy yourselves, but don't go hyper."

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