momentum charity

Momentum Children’s Charity celebrates 18th birthday

Momentum Children’s Charity celebrates 18th birthday

This month, Bianca Effemey, Founder CEO at Momentum Children’s Charity which supports families with seriously ill children, will be celebrating 18 years since its launch.

Since she first devised a plan in 2004 to get some ice lollies provided on the paediatric ward at Kingston Hospital, Bianca Effemey has been determined to help families whose children have cancer or a life-challenging illness. Having been told by a local department store that they could only donate a fridge-freezer to a registered charity, Bianca rallied a few friends together – parents whose children had been affected by cancer – and overnight Momentum Children’s Charity was born. This tenacious attitude and absolute determination to provide personalised support to children facing cancer or another life-challenging condition has made the charity what it is today. 

In 18 years, Momentum Children’s Charity has touched the lives of more than 10,000 people – from the families and children, to their supporters who have rallied together to help raise funds, to the nurses, doctors, arts therapists and volunteers. Bianca started by personally helping one or two families, but fast-forward 18 years and the charity has grown to a team of 24 employees who currently support more than a thousand people, across more than 320 families. Bianca continues with her mission to ensure no family with a seriously ill child has to cope alone and is looking to grow the charity further.  

Her innate ability to sense what a family needs paved the way for the personal approach taken by the charity when supporting those in need. Having worked as a receptionist in the Kingston Hospital paediatric department Bianca had seen that the support needs of every family are different. This insight ensured that Momentum could adapt to those needs by offering a range of services, including music therapy for children struggling to express their emotions about their diagnosis, specialist bereavement support for grief-stricken parents, or respite breaks for families in desperate need of precious time together when cancer means a traditional holiday is not possible. 

The first 60 families came to Momentum simply through word of mouth and Bianca worked long hours to ensure she was always contactable – often travelling to the hospital in the middle of the night to offer emotional support if a child took a sudden turn for the worse. Even now, in her role as Founder CEO, Bianca has stayed close to the families. Keeping in touch, year after year, has meant that many of these families have become part of the wider Momentum family and give back their support through volunteering or taking in fundraising challenges. 

One of the families that Bianca and Momentum have a special connection with are Jeff and Ann Brown. They first met Bianca and the charity in 2006, when their daughter Kiera was diagnosed with cancer. Despite many months of treatment, Kiera passed away in 2007. Momentum stood by Jeff and Ann, offering support through the Momentum Echoes programme; an area of the charity specifically for bereaved parents and families.  

Jeff said: “Momentum Children’s Charity were always there, not just for Kiera but for both Ann and I too. When Kiera lost her fight against cancer Momentum continued to be there and helped us to arrange her funeral; as her parents, we were so very grateful to have support with that. 

“Momentum Echoes has been a vital part of my coming to terms with the loss of my daughter. The ability to meet other parents who have gone through the same experience has been so helpful.” 

Having been helped by Momentum over the years, Jeff and Ann are now reversing the roles having become loyal supporters of the charity and often give up their time to help other families or to raise much-needed funds. 

Momentum offered Jeff the chance to train up as a skipper for the Momentum river boat, which he did by taking a short course. He now makes up part of their boating volunteers’ team, taking children and their families who are currently going through treatment out for short day trips. He said: 

“I took one family out a few years ago. Their son was going through treatment and they had never been on the river before. The thrill and excitement that they had felt for just a few hours still resonates with me.” 

“Without Momentum Children’s Charity, our life at that time would’ve been much more difficult. We know that families are still going through what we endured, so we feel it’s important to give back where we can. 

“As well as my role skippering the boat occasionally, Ann organises an annual Valentine’s collection in Kingston too, which many of Kiera’s schoolfriends, now in their 20s, will volunteer to help at as well, as it’s a really special way to remember Kiera and a great fundraiser for the charity too.” 

The challenges of the pandemic have put particular pressures on the ability of charities to raise funds and as a non-profit that relies solely on donations, the fundraising team at Momentum have had to pull out all the stops to make up for this. The pandemic also meant adapting to the changing support requirements of families during this period, as requests for mental health support increased and restrictions changed.  

It is this same spirit of endeavour that is driving the Charity forward with Bianca’s strategic vision for Momentum to support almost 60% more families by 2024. Based on feedback from partner hospitals, the charity is expecting referrals to increase by almost 20% this year, so will need to ramp up service delivery alongside maintaining the work Momentum already do to offer personalised support, child-friendly hospital ward refurbishments and access to professional counselling. 

The work Momentum Children’s Charity does is more important now than ever. Although it is not there to cure or medically treat disease, Momentum provides an invaluable lifeline to hundreds of families going through unimaginable strain every single year. Figures show that there are around 1,800 new childhood cancer cases in the UK every year1, that’s around 5 every day. These children, their parents and carers often experience anxiety and depression, but with the NHS stretched to breaking point, the ever-growing waiting lists mean that many do not receive any support.  

As a supported parent recently said: We can’t imagine the last few months without Momentum Children’s Charity. Just knowing that the support is there if needed means so much. If we’re ever struggling, we know someone is there to talk to. It makes a big difference. Momentum have kept us going.” 

After nearly two decades since being set up out of Kingston Hospital, Momentum Children’s Charity now partners with nine hospitals in West London, Surrey and Sussex: St Peter’s Hospital, Chertsey; Kingston Hospital; St George’s Hospital, Tooting; Royal Surrey County Hospital, Guildford; Epsom Hospital; East Surrey Hospital and University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust including: Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital, Brighton; St Richards, Chichester and Worthing Hospital. 

These partnerships not only offer the presence of Momentum’s friendly Family Support Workers on the wards at these hospitals – taking pressure off time poor doctors and nursing staff by spending time with families in much need of someone to talk to – but the charity also transforms bare, clinical rooms into bright, colourful and child-friendly spaces.  

It was only two years after founding the charity that Bianca was able to support Kingston Hospital with refurbishing their outside space into a wonderful garden and children’s play area. This was the first of more than 100 completed projects to transform the healing environment for children at Momentum’s partner hospitals. These magical makeovers make long, scary hospital stays and procedures much less frightening and provide welcome distractions for the thousands of children treated each year.   

As one paediatric matron explains “Hospital can be a frightening and intimidating place for anyone, but especially for young patients. The beautiful, child-friendly murals that Momentum has provided are a great distraction and help to make the hospital feel warmer and less like a scary clinical space.” 

Bianca sees opportunities everywhere for the charity, searching for new ways to help families – be that by buying a river boat for families to get a few hours respite on the Thames at Shepperton, (but not too far from medical help at Kingston Hospital) or using her network of contacts to create a unique theatre buddies program, allowing children who are too weak due to treatment to attend their drama clubs to have a 1-2-1 experience with West End performers. She continues to look to the future with a mission to continue to grow so that Momentum Children’s Charity can help more families. 

If you are interested in learning more about the work Momentum does, seeing the roles they are currently recruiting for or would like to get involved by attending an event, volunteering or making a donation please visit their website and sign up to their newsletter.