A Teesside hospice is giving children with profound learning disabilities more opportunities to learn and express themselves thanks to a four-figure grant from Newcastle Building Society’s Community Fund.

Zoë’s Place provides palliative, respite and end-of-life care for babies and young children suffering from life-limiting or life-threatening conditions.

Many of the children cared for at Zoë’s Place, who are aged from birth to five-years-old, lack motor skills and find using touch screen devices helpful for communication.

And now, after being given a £2,642 grant through Newcastle Building Society’s Linthorpe Road branch, the Hospice has purchased six iPads to help the children communicate more easily.

They will also assist with art therapy sessions, which also act as a form of psychotherapy and allow children to use art materials for self-expression via pictures instead of the spoken word.

The funding has been provided by the Newcastle Building Society Community Fund at the Community Foundation, which provides grants to charities and community groups located in or around the communities served by the Society’s branch network, and put forward for support by its customers.

It’s the second time that the Community Fund has supported Zoe’s Place, with an £1,800 grant given in 2017 enabling ten members of its nursing team to be trained to administer aromatherapy treatments to the hospice’s young patients.

Zoë’s Place, which is an independent charity which also has hospices in Coventry and Liverpool, opened its Middlesbrough hospice in 2004 and offers free care and support for children and families at a time when they are most in need.

Most of the support it provides is respite care, giving parents and carers of babies and young children with life-limiting or life-threatening conditions the chance to recharge their batteries or to spend time with their other children.

The hospice also provides vital support for families dealing with difficult issues or bereavements, as well as specialist end-of-life care for very young children, and needs to raise around £1.5 million every year to continue its work.

Previous funding from Newcastle Building Society enabled Zoe’s Place to become the first hospice in the UK to install vCreate secure messaging technology, which helps to minimise separation anxiety for parents by providing them with regular, easily-accessible video updates on their children at any time.

Lisa Appleby, Head of Care at Zoë’s Place, says: “Many of our children don’t have good motor skills and computers and older technology that require movement between a mouse or keyboard and the screen can be difficult to use.

“But with a touchscreen, the children can watch as one of their fingers directly writes on the screen to make selections, which in turn helps improve their fine motor skills.

“As children are naturally creative, it is often easier for them to draw as opposed to answering questions directly, and this approach allows them to tackle tough issues in an easier and creative way.

“Our children already have so many hurdles to overcome, and with the support of Newcastle Building Society and these iPads, we can help them overcome one of them. They will enable our children to have an involvement within a learning process that so many of us take for granted.”

Since its launch in 2016, Newcastle Building Society’s Community Fund has contributed over £1.8m in grants and partnerships with the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and the Princes Trust. The grants are so far estimated to have had a positive impact on more than 151,000 people.

The most recent application period saw 40 projects that had been nominated by Society customers, receiving a total of £94,982 between them.

Grant applications for a maximum of £3,000 can be made in any Society branch or via the newcastle.co.uk website by customers who wish to support their local communities.  There are larger grants of up to £50,000 also available to assist groups in improving or maintaining community buildings.

Kimberley Saunders, manager at Newcastle Building Society’s Middlesbrough branch, adds: “Zoë’s Place means a lot to the people of Teesside and provides so much help and care for local families facing incredibly difficult situations.

“Supporting the communities in which we’re based is very important to us and extending our support for the vital services that Zoë’s Place provides is just one way in which we’re able to do this.”

The Newcastle Building Society Community Fund is run in association with the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland.