More than 30,000 teddy bears have been given to young patients passing through the Countess of Chester Hospital’s emergency department since 2004.
Staff hand out the cute cuddly toys to youngsters to make their visits to hospital less scary, as a distraction and sometimes to increase their understanding of what doctors and nurses do by demonstrating on the teddies.
Cheshire Freemasons donate the bears as part of their nationwide Teddies for Loving Care Appeal and a special plaque has now been unveiled at the Countess to thank them for their long-standing support.
Matron Jo Windsor said: “Hospitals can be scary places for children and getting one of these teddies can really make a huge difference.
“It just takes their minds off what’s going on and gives them something to smile about, which gives everyone a huge lift. We’re very grateful to the freemasons for providing the teddies and hope they can continue to do so for a long time.”
The TLC Appeal started in Essex in 2001, before launching in Cheshire three years later.
Nearly two million bears have now been donated to hospitals across the UK, with around 120,000 being gifted to youngsters at hospitals in this region.
The freemasons drop off around 200 bears every fortnight at the Countess, with funding for the initiative coming entirely from members of the 300-year-old fraternity.
Provincial co-ordinator for the TLC Appeal Neil Eaton said: “Children get to keep the bears and take them home so it can become a treasured item.
“I’ve had people get in touch with me saying ’10 years ago my children were given a bear and they’ve still got it’, which is great to hear.”
What can cause some confusion is where the bears come from, with some people assuming they are provided by the NHS, which is why the Countess took steps to thank the freemasons with a permanent tribute in the children’s waiting area of the emergency department.
A delegation from the Cheshire Freemasons, which included Neil and provincial grandmaster Stephen M Blank, attended a special opening ceremony for the plaque this week.
Nathan Robinson, who was in the waiting room at the time with his poorly 16-month-old son Hamish, looked on as the plaque was opened.
His son was happily playing with his new teddy at the time, while waiting to be seen for having a high temperature.
“It was a great surprise to be given a teddy,” Nathan said later when Hamish was back home and on the mend. “He really likes the teddy and it gave him something to play with while we waited.”
Neil added: “We’re all volunteers and we do this in our own time so that is the reward we get, seeing that little chap in there with the smile on his face with his teddy – that’s the job done as far as we’re concerned.”