Our Head of Services Daniel Gillis shares his thoughts on Camp Simcha’s inaugural residential sibling retreat this month.

At the beginning of 2020 were we busy planning our first ever residential Sibling Retreat, three days focused purely on siblings of the seriously ill children we support.

We all know what happened next, but now two years on – and a long time coming – this month we were finally saw our plans come to fruition.

At Camp Simcha 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.

Sadly, we do see a mental health impact on some of the siblings Camp Simcha supports and this is why several 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. This was the motivation behind our new sibling retreat.

With activities including climbing, archery, Jacob’s Ladder, buggy building, bowling, graffiti and magic workshops, Build-a-bear and t-shirt painting, the children from London, Manchester and Gateshead, enjoyed a packed three-day schedule of fun together.

It was a wonderful, activity-filled few days of respite from the pressures at home – but also an opportunity for these young people to feel special in their own right, to talk to other siblings, and potentially form bonds with others who can really relate.

For many of the children it was the first time away from home and a lot of the activities were centred around team work and independence.

The focus was on having fun, but the by-product was children gaining confidence and strength from working together, 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. When we talk about the Camp Simcha family, this is exactly what we mean.

We had some amazing feedback, but for me I think the following message from one Camp Simcha parent sums it up… “My daughter had a fantastic time. It was so healthy for her to be away and get some time out just for her. At home it’s all about baby 24/7. She made friends and came back with a bunch of cuddly toys and a big smile.”