A specially-designed Storyteller’s Chair is at the centre of a new community initiative to support children facing loss.
The unique galvanised iron seat was donated by Robyn West, whose late husband Ian died of cancer six years ago after spending his final days at the Northchurch-based Hospice of St Francis.
She said: “Ian used to delight in making up stories at bedtime for our daughter Amy when she was little.
“They would always be about Amy, and Ian would use them to help her deal with friendship or other issues she’d experienced during the day, whether it was to make her laugh or to help her go to sleep with a happier heart.”
After Ian died, Robyn spoke to hospice director Dr Ros Taylor about how she might repay the hospice for its support – and when Ros shared her vision of a storytelling area in the woodland garden, Robyn was inspired.
“A Storyteller’s Chair seemed the perfect tribute to Ian and a wonderful way of using storytelling to communicate with children,” she said.
“The reality of serious illness and dying is tough to deal with but because it’s a natural part of the cycle of life, I firmly believe that it’s important to talk about it.
“To lose someone we love is hard.
“Talking about it can make it less painful but sometimes talk is hard, too – which is where stories come in, to communicate and engage where talk cannot.”
The hospice hopes the chair’s arrival will mark the start of many storytelling events, adding to its existing children’s support services and helping it to reach into the local community to raise awareness – particularly in schools – about what it does.
The chair could help provide a focus for poetry and music events for adults, too.
Dr Taylor said: “Thanks to Robyn’s generosity, inspiration and time – and the tireless help of our volunteer gardeners – we’ve been able to create a special, secluded, magical place where we can use storytelling to celebrate life and demystify death.
“It’s also a perfect space for quiet, therapeutic reflection. The chair is a work of art!”
Robyn commissioned Kew blacksmith Shelley Thomas to design and make the ice-blue painted chair.
At an opening ceremony Berkhamsted children’s author and animator Allan Plenderleith entertained 20 pre-school children from Sunhill Montessori Nursery with a reading from Berk, Ham and Ted in the Story Chair, written for the occasion and conceived by his son Max, eight, a pupil at Westfield School.
The story is set in Berkhamsted and its heroes are Berk the monkey, Ham the pig, and Ted the teddy bear, who live in The Rocket – better known to locals as the water tower.
When the book is published Allan – author of best-selling children’s classics The Smelly Sprout and The Silly Satsuma – has pledged to donate all profits to the hospice.
He said: “I’m honoured to have been asked to read the first story in this magical setting.
“It’s a fantastically whimsical and unusual idea, which I hope lots of children will be able to experience and enjoy.”
>Event pictures by ©ProMedia.