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Our Shining Stars appeal: Meet the team providing specialist support to children in Cambridgeshire who have lost a loved one





The Cambridge Independent launched its Shining Stars campaign last week, aiming to raise £10,000 for Ormiston Families’ Stars children’s bereavement support service.

The service provides specialist support and counselling to children in Cambridgeshire who are struggling to cope with the loss of a loved one.

Counsellor Paula Thexton, Charlotte Burnett and Ann-Marie McKiernan. Picture: Keith Heppell
Counsellor Paula Thexton, Charlotte Burnett and Ann-Marie McKiernan. Picture: Keith Heppell

The team, consisting of full-time, part-time and volunteer counsellors, provide children with a safe place to express difficult emotions surrounding their loss through arts, crafts, creative play and talking therapy.

Ann-Marie McKiernan, Stars manager, said her involvement in the service was sparked by her own experience as a teenager.

“I experienced a significant loss in my family when I was 14, so I chose to complete a placement for my counselling qualification at Stars in 2011 as I understood the impact that death can have on a child,” she said.

“I have remained at the service in various roles ever since. Even when moving into a managerial role, I made sure I was continuing my clinical work with our service users as that will always be the most important part of the job.”

The service’s creative play and arts-based approach helps children work through their emotions. Ann-Marie said the approach is necessary as children grieve in a different way to adults.

“A death is a huge disturbance in a child’s life, and their feelings can easily overwhelm them if they aren’t able to understand or process them properly,” she said.

Ormiston Families Stars in Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell
Ormiston Families Stars in Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell

“Creative arts not only help children to naturally express their feelings to us, but also help them to express and maintain the connection they have with the person they have lost.

“Protecting the memories a child has of a special person they have lost is one of the most valuable things we can do as a service.”

Paula Thexton, a Stars counsellor who joined the team in 2014, outlined what a normal day looks like for her.

She said: “I’m often out first thing in the morning to deliver support sessions to children in their schools.

Paula Thexton. Picture: Keith Heppell
Paula Thexton. Picture: Keith Heppell

“When I’m back at the office, I’ll update client case paperwork, deliver advisory phone calls to families and book in appointments for assessments, accommodating these around school and work hours.”

Charlotte Burnett, who recently joined the team as a counsellor in October 2022, explained why she feels the work of Stars is so important.

She said: “We are often the only people with which children can voice how they are really feeling about their loss without feeling judged.

“Our work helps children to access and make sense of difficult emotions, giving them the time and safe space they need to truly process them.”

Our Shining Stars appeal

The Cambridge Independent needs your help to raise £10,000 to support Stars in carrying out its vital work.

Ormiston Families Stars in Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell
Ormiston Families Stars in Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell

During the Shining Stars campaign, we will be sharing stories of those who have been affected by loss or supported in their grief by Stars, highlighting the incredible work practitioners deliver everyday.

You can follow the campaign each week in the Cambridge Independent, and through Ormiston Families’ social media channels.

To help us support a child during their most critical time of need, donate to our Shining Stars campaign today on our JustGiving page at https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/shiningstarsappeal2023

If you have been affected by the loss of a loved one or have been supported by our Stars service in the past, and would like to share your story, please get in touch with Ormiston Families by emailing communications@ormistonfamilies.org.uk.



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