This time last year I was in London taking part in what is unquestionably one of my most favourite events of the year, judging a couple of categories for the Free From Food Awards (#FFFA). The first lockdown changed the way that the awards ceremony itself took place, with a rather wonderful evening spent celebrating the best of what had been tasted online instead of the usually glamorous night out at the Royal College of Physicians near Regents Park.
I’ve missed the opportunity to escape home for a day or two and reconnect with friends from the allergy community, or indeed make new ones as well as the chance to uncover some potential new big hits for G and M this year. The way the 2021 FFFA will be judged is currently being reviewed in light of yet another lockdown, and may end up going virtual, though the logistics of that will be somewhat more difficult as we usually judge blind with the products only being revealed once all votes are in. Of course we’ve all got our fingers crossed that reducing numbers, the vaccination roll-out and lifting of lockdown might mean we can all get together once again, but only time will tell if that’s what will actually happen albeit potentially a little later than normal this year.
When I started judging 6 years ago, M was on his highly restricted diet of just a handful of safe foods and I was delighted to discover the amazing Borough 22 doughnuts, which are still one of our all-time favourite allergy-friendly foods ever. Over the years I’ve managed to find more and more safe options as M’s repertoire of foods has steadily increased, sometimes at a faster pace than any of us expected, and this year is no exception. M can now eat far more normally than it sometimes seemed possible, although he still follows a strict MEWS-free diet with some other known problem foods also excluded.
This improvement to his dietary options has been much celebrated at home, so it was perfect timing when the email from the FFFA team dropped into my inbox asking if both children would like to be involved as judges of the FFFA’s “Child & Teens” category for their first time ever. Unsurprisingly both leapt at the chance and have embraced this new mantle of responsibility with great aplomb. The products have been slowly trickling into the household over the past couple of weeks and its been wonderful to see G and M getting as much joy from the judging experience as I have over the years. There have been one or two big hits (watch this space for future updates) and one or two absolute “NO”s, although those have mainly been the result of individual taste and general fussiness rather than anything really wrong with the product. Their feedback has been honest and all they really want to know is whether they’ll be able to take part as judges again in the future!
I mentioned a couple of months ago that G has been invited to become part of the GOSH Young People’s Forum, or YPF as it’s more readily known. When I wrote that post, she was just about to attend her first meeting and was excited to see what the YPF was all about. For those of you who perhaps can’t quite remember the finer details, it’s a group of approximately 40 young people aged between 11-25, who are all either current patients at GOSH, previous GOSH patients or siblings of patients. As well as being one of the youngest in the group, G is, I believe, unique in that she is the only member who is the sibling of an existing GOSH patient, which makes her comments valuable coming, as they do, from a completely different viewpoint.
The purpose of the YPF is to improve the services provided by GOSH to their young patients, whether inpatients or outpatients and focusing on the teenage patients in particular. It is very much a two-way process, with the hospital asking for input on important issues or developments that are happening on-site as well as the YPF members developing their own projects to improve the experiences of patients and their families. Members get involved in all aspects of hospital life from inspections such as the PLACE assessment and providing valuable feedback on projects planned by hospital staff, to writing content for the TeenGOSH community webpages and helping design areas of the hospital such as the reception area, which was redeveloped in 2014. You can read more about what the YPF members have been up to through their blog here.
The Forum meets 6 times a year at the hospital and each meeting lasts for the full day, with lunch and snacks provided by the GOSH catering team. They have been brilliant at providing safe food for G, although there are still a few glitches to iron out such as making sure her lunch arrives at the same time as everyone else’s. The 2 meetings that G has attended so far have been extremely different, but overall her experience has been good and she’s keen to continue her involvement with the YPF for the time being. At her most recent meeting – the minutes of which you can find here – they really did cover a whole range of different aspects of hospital life. G has now become something of an expert on the subject of the recruitment process and was able to share what they had been told about the different areas that needed to be covered when GOSH is looking to recruit new members of staff. A professional photographer went along to take photos for the new publicity campaign to raise awareness of the YPF and its role within the hospital and G is looking forward to seeing which photos are chosen for the final published materials. They were also lucky enough to go on a couple of tours of some little known areas of GOSH, including the various sacred places that provide spiritual support for those families from a number of different religions and a sneak peek at the Morgan Stanley Garden that was displayed at the Royal Chelsea Flower Show earlier this year. The particular highlight for G was the discussions held around arrangements for the teenage attendees of this year’s Halloween and Christmas parties and she had great fun inventing gory names for the food on offer at Halloween.