I'm Donna Hodges, the co-founder of the Bodie Hodges Foundation, an organisation working across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland to support families bereaved of a child. Childhood death has a profound and long-lasting effect on an entire family, with the impact of this grief lasting a lifetime. With my husband Nick, I have deep personal experience of this situation and I am determined to ensure families have the support they need, when and how they need it.
Nick and I established the Foundation after we lost our beloved baby son, Bodie. We discovered the harsh reality that, in our area, the waiting time for support for bereaved families like ours was six to nine months. We needed support far earlier than that. Somehow, together, we managed to keep going – but deep down, at the time we knew this was not right and we still believe this today.
When we were ready, we started fundraising to help other bereavement charities and were successful at that. It helped us, being able to help others. Over time, we became increasingly aware that the type of support that families needed, that we had needed, was not available. We decided to fill the gap and established the Bodie Hodges Foundation.
We opened Bodie's Boathouse, a haven at Tallington Lakes that offers families across the East Midlands a free, one week stay, to take time together and rebuild. Sadly, the need is always far bigger than we accommodate, and the Boathouse is always busy.
We meet people where they are in the grief. We opened Bodie's House, a centre where parents and children from across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland can come in to talk, take part in activities and make new friends who understand exactly where they are at. All this helps with grieving. Families say they find a warm and understanding welcome with us, in a safe place, where they can be themselves and talk about exactly how they are feeling.
We offer early emotional and therapeutic support during the first 18 months after the death of a child aged 18 or under. With Nicola Rhodes, our lead child and family bereavement practitioner and two new additional support workers, we offer families a chance to talk about the child that has died and their worries along with one-to-one bereavement support for siblings in school, creative activities for the whole family and much more. We have seen the very real difference this makes.
Our Bodie's Treasured Memory Bags provide free grief resources for siblings – with special bags for ages 3-10, 11-16 and a sensory bag specially curated for those with special educational needs and disabilities. We want all children to feel included and to have ways to express and release their grief and feelings.
Our work has only just begun, and we have lots of plans to expand what we do. We want to be ready, to be right there when families need us, to help them talk, to remember and to rebuild once more.