Making child’s play of a hospital stay

Askeaton teenager Lauren McGrath officially opens the Ark Park at UHL watched by her mother June, members of the hospital management team and staff from the Children’s Ark unit. Photo: Brian Arthur

UNIVERSITY Hospital Limerick is making child’s play of being a young patient at the Dooradoyle facility with the official opening of the newly refurbished playground and outdoor park at the Children’s Ark unit.

Askeaton teenager Lauren McGrath did the honours at a special socially-distanced ceremony last Friday.

The beautiful slides, climbing apparatus and play areas gleamed in the mid-day sun as Lauren cut the ribbon, watched by her proud mum June, who has been bringing her to UHL for the past 11 years.

 “It’s lovely to be here today for Lauren to open the new park. We’ve been coming here since Lauren was three, and it’s lovely to have a new park where children, especially those who are in for long periods of time, and their parents, can get out in the fresh air. It’s so important for the mental health to get outside, breathe the fresh air, and have a bit of fun. If you don’t have that opportunity, the walls can really close in on you,” June said.

 “The old park was past its best, and this one is completely wheelchair accessible, so Lauren will be able to scoot out here on her wheelchair, especially if she has to wait for an appointment. She’ll actually look forward to coming in now. It’s not all about dressings and needles,” she added.

The original playground was developed as part of the Children’s Ark, a bright, child-friendly paediatric unit that was built 20 years ago, with the support of fundraising and donations from many individuals and companies in the Mid-West. In more recent years, the park has required an upgrade.

The refurbished Ark Park, is 1,250 square metres of colour and tranquillity, with a partially covered play area set amid landscaped green areas and flower beds, in the centre of the buildings that house the wards and offices of the Children’s Ark unit.

Visitors are greeted by a beautifully sculpted Garden Fairy perched atop a wooden toadstool in the flowerbed near the entrance, and the entire area is intended to deliver a heartening, refreshing boost to the spirits for children and parents, as well as staff, who need some time out from the hospital environment to relax and recharge.

The main climbing frame and slide area, sheltered from the elements by two huge white canopies, forms the shape of a ship, a visual tribute to the Ark that is its permanent harbour. There are seats amid the carefully manicured green areas and flowerbeds with hydrangeas and other flowering plants that will pop with colour and scent during the summer.

Clinical Director of the Maternal and Child Care Directorate, UL Hospitals Group, Dr Siobhan Gallagher, said that the refurbished Ark Park fulfilled a number of important objectives.

“Throughout the design we paid special attention to the provision of play for children with disability and the need for inclusive play and access for all,” she explained.

Dr Gallagher paid tribute to the people of the Mid-West who have raised so much money for the project over the past number of years, the businesses in the region for their donations and support, and staff and management across the UL Hospitals Group community.