Camp Simcha held its first ever residential Sibling Retreat this month, with three days focused purely on siblings of the seriously ill children they support.

The charity had first planned the retreat to run in the summer of 2020, but it was postponed due to Covid.

Camp Simcha Head of Services Daniel Gillis explained that the services team had been looking at ways they could do even more for siblings, in terms of peer support and activities focused specifically on them.

“We talk about siblings as the forgotten sufferers when a child is ill. They have to accept that their parents’ attention is often needed more urgently elsewhere and sometimes even take on the role of subsidiary carer. They often keep their own worries to themselves so as not to burden their parents.

“Many of our services are designed to mitigate this – including dedicated volunteers, sibling groups, counselling and therapeutic art sessions. But we also know there is a real benefit for our families in being part of community and getting that kind of peer support that only those who understand what you are going through can provide.”

With activities including climbing, archery, Jacob’s Ladder, buggy building, bowling, graffiti and magic workshops, Build-a-bear and t-shirt painting, the children, aged eight to 12, from London, Manchester and Gateshead, enjoyed a packed few days of fun together in Aylesbury.

“The focus was on having fun, but the by-product was children gaining confidence and strength from working together in many of the activities, while forming bonds at the same time. We also had an art therapy group one evening and reflective time around the camp fire another.

“The children were far too busy enjoying themselves to realise the benefit of their time away, but you could just see them visibly relaxing – away from all the day-to-day concerns at home, with the focus just on them.

“It was also wonderful to see friendships forming and numbers being exchanged – the children going home feeling that they had that friend in their life who understands.”

Leora Levene, 12, from Manchester, whose brother Joey has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, said: “Everyone got along so well and I loved all the adventurous activities like Jacob’s Ladder and the day trip to Flip Out.

“I made some really nice new friends who also live in Manchester. It was nice to have a bit of time away and meet people who understand. Camp Simcha had made the place where we were staying look really nice and decorated it in a really cool way, and every meal was themed so it was lots of fun.”

Her mum Tracy added: “Leora came back really happy and refreshed. It was great to have a retreat focused on siblings.  Her brother Joey has been on Camp Sincha children’s retreat in the past and camp in America. Understandably there is a lot of focus on the child who has the medical condition, so it was really nice for the focus to be on Leora this time.”