On the Ground: Hearts & Minds

Blythe Terrell

Scheme: Clowndoctors in Scotland

Objectives: To improve quality of life for children in hospital care

Funding: About 56 per cent of funding come from trusts and foundations.

Most of the rest comes from a range of public sources such as the Scottish Arts Council, the Scottish Executives and local authorities. There are some corporate and individual donations as well.

Clowndoctors is a troupe of eight professional performing artists, most with at least five years' experience in using the arts to benefit others, who dress up as clowns and go into hospitals to entertain and cheer up sick children. Each has their own individual Clowndoctor character and all undergo comprehensive arts-in-health training.

Magdalena Schamberger, executive director of Hearts & Minds, a charity that uses the arts to help hospital and hospice patients, started the Clowndoctors programme in Scotland in 1999 with funding from the Scottish Arts Council. She brought the idea to Scotland after seeing its success elsewhere, particularly in Austria, her home country.

Hearts & Minds general manager Christine Stewart said: "Clowndoctors have to be quite adaptable. It's a very rewarding job for them, but it's also quite demanding. They have to have a sense of compassion and must be multi-talented. Finding the right people is really important."

The clowndoctors, who are paid freelancers, work in pairs and visit individual children at their bedsides. Healthcare staff refer children to the Clowndoctors so they can tailor their approach to the condition and response of each child.

The group currently visits six hospitals and small units, and has plans to start work at the new Royal Aberdeen Children's Hospital and the children's ward of Raigmore Hospital in Inverness. Hearts & Minds also recently received funding from the Scottish Arts Council to create a children's website, set to launch in February.

As well as other benefits, the Clowndoctors bring smiles and laughter to children, Stewart said. "Clowndoctors are compassionate, very funny people with red noses," said a mother whose four-year-old child sustained brain injuries in a traffic accident. "They are magic. They made my daughter laugh. She couldn't walk or talk, but she laughed and that kept us all going."

Stewart recites other success stories. "There was a girl who had been in a traffic accident. Over the weeks, she improved and on her last day she chased the Clowndoctor down the corridor with her walking frame."

Hearts & Minds also works with elderly people who have dementia through its Elderflowers programme.

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