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They fought leukaemia – now they are fighting for other children’s joy

Two inspiring young friends launch ambitious appeal to revitalise Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital rooftop playground

In an inspiring show of friendship and community spirit, two inseparable best friends, Hughie and Freddie, have embarked on an ambitious fundraising campaign to breathe new life into the rooftop play area at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital.

The Rooftop Play Area at Manchester Children’s Hospital

The current rooftop area is in need of a bit of love

The dynamic duo, fueled by their personal connection to the hospital, is rallying supporters to raise £300,000 for a complete transformation of the cherished play space, which has been a haven for young patients for over a decade.

Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital Charity

Hugh and Freddie

Hughie Higginson and Freddie Xavi both champions of Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital Charity, are calling upon fellow residents of Manchester to rally behind their cause.

The transformation of the rooftop play area is particularly poignant for Hughie, currently undergoing treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia within the hospital’s oncology unit.

Hughie Higginson and Freddie Xavi – Community Champions

The duos efforts have now raised over £150,000

To date, they’ve raised almost £300,000 for Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital which has supported a number of projects around the hospital.

This includes slushies for children on the oncology ward, to help soothe mouth ulcers and other side effects of chemotherapy, music therapy and a refurbishment of the TeenZone.

Now the boys are turning their attention to the rooftop play area.

This cherished rooftop sanctuary, which has been a lifeline for countless youngsters enduring extended hospital stays, is in dire need of revitalisation after years of dedicated service.

The project holds a special place in the hearts of Hughie and Freddie, who have seen firsthand the transformative power of outdoor play during challenging times.

Hughie, 13, spoke to I Love Manchester about his early days in the hospital, saying: “When I was first diagnosed in September 2020 I was in hospital for weeks.

“When I went up to the rooftop play area it was the first bit of fresh air I’d had in about five or six weeks.

“I wasn’t well enough to leave the hospital, so it was such a nice feeling being outside again but knowing I was safe and still in the hospital.”

Freddie, 12, a huge sports enthusiast, empathises with the children’s longing for open spaces, remarking: “I can’t imagine what it is like to not go outside for a long time.

“The rooftop play area is great for children who want to get some space outside and do activities they can’t necessarily do on the ward.”

The play area’s significance extends beyond physical respite; it serves as an oasis of rejuvenation for young people in the midst of medical battles.

Hughie’s and Freddie’s Play Appeal, endorsed by the hospital’s own charity, has struck a chord with supporters near and far who are eager to contribute to the transformation of this vital space.

These inseparable friends embarked on their philanthropic journey when Hughie’s leukaemia diagnosis sparked Freddie’s desire to make a difference.

Freddie launched a 50-day running challenge leading up to Christmas Day in 2020, setting the stage for their remarkable journey.

Their story resonated deeply with the public and saw them scoop several prestigious honours including the Pride of Britain Award and the British Citizen Youth Award.

Their captivating tale has graced the screens of national and local media outlets, casting a spotlight on their inspiring initiative.

With Hughie’s health progressing, he now stands side by side with Freddie in their fundraising efforts.

The duo’s latest venture involves a remarkable challenge – running 1km around each Premier League and English Football League Club, uniting their love for the sport with their commitment to giving back.

Now, Hughie and Freddie are directing their boundless energy towards breathing new life into the rooftop play area.

This revitalisation effort will create an inclusive space accessible to all children, irrespective of their needs, offering room for play, physical therapy, relaxation, and enjoyment.

Among the planned enhancements are quiet zones, complete with Wi-Fi and charging points for older children.

The revamped space will feature sheltered areas, heating, and lighting for extended evening use.

Georgia Sleigh, Relationship Officer at Manchester Foundation Trust Charity, shares their perspective: “When we told Hughie and Freddie about the rooftop play area they got it straight away.

“Hughie especially knows how important it is to stretch your legs and enjoy a change of scenery when you’re living full time on a ward receiving treatment.

“Freddie gets it too – but I think it resonated for both of them when they met current patient Penny on the roof.

Seeing her face light up really hammered home just how vital it is to have this space.

“There is a reason it’s now in desperate need of a revamp – it’s just been so well-loved and used by our patients for over a decade.”

Penny, a six-year-old patient who met Hughie and Freddie on the rooftop, is currently recovering from surgery at the children’s hospital after being diagnosed with a type of brain tumour known as pilocytic astrocytoma.

Her mum Elizabeth said: “When Penny first went on the roof she hadn’t had fresh air in 10 weeks.

“She was just like ‘wow’.

“Before her brain tumour she was a big fan of swimming and dancing so being active and outdoors was a big part of her life.

“It’s so well loved and used so it is definitely in need of a revamp. It will be so amazing to see it transformed.”

The £300,000 needed for the play area will enable the hospital to completely overhaul the area.

From the moment patients step outside they’ll be greeted with a play area designed to be accessible to all children, including those who have a range of access needs.

They’ll be able to move around, practice their physiotherapy exercises or just relax and enjoy being outside.

As well as spaces for play and fun gardening work, there will be quiet areas including Wi-Fi and plug-in points for older children to enjoy.

The space will also have heated and sheltered areas, as well as lighting for evening use.

Susan Fairclough, Therapeutic and Specialised Play Service Manager, Youth Service Manager and Event Lead at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Seeing patients running around or brought up in their wheelchairs or in their beds has brought many families and staff so much pleasure in seeing their faces.

“It really is a healing environment.”

“The play area means children can safely have time outside.

“And it also makes the transition to going home less daunting – they’re not just going from the ward to outside, they’re able to acclimatise with some outdoor time in the play area.”

The appeal has only just begun so the Charity now needs the help of the public to get the funds raised.

As each day passes, the rooftop play area is becoming even more worn and tired.

But with the public’s support, things can change.

If you’d like to donate to this amazing cause, please click here or here

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