We walked into the communal room and the children made a beeline for a playroom and some craft tables. Volunteers from a local company were running a Halloween event for residents to make masks and decorations. One of many opportunities for children to retain some form of normality during their family’s darkest hour.
What is Ronald McDonald House?
Every parent knows that sinking feeling you get when your child is ill. You see their suffering, but there’s nothing you can do to help them. And so you wait, helpless, for them to get better. That feeling must be multiplied hundreds of times over when your child is in hospital. Perhaps in an unfamiliar city, maybe hundreds of miles from home.
Away from the support of friends and extended family, parents can struggle to cope. The financial pressure is immeasurable. Staying nearby because you have to, because your child needs you. But what about other children, parental relationships and the friendships you need to keep going?
That’s why Ronald McDonald House provides free accommodation and support for the families of children in hospital. A home-from-home environment, where families can stay together. There are 14 of these houses in the UK, and they’ve supported over 60,000 families since 1989. Each accommodates a large number of families a stone’s throw from the hospital.
The Birmingham house manager explained to me that the houses allow families to relocate together. Instead of one parent staying with the sick child, the whole family can go about their day to day lives at Ronald McDonald House. They pay a £25 deposit, and that’s it. They can stay as long as they need to, as long as their child needs them to be there. The longest staying resident in Birmingham was there for two years.
A tour of the house
From the moment you walk into Ronald McDonald house, there is a cheerful atmosphere. One that belies the stress its residents are under. Each family is given a bedroom and a shared kitchen, dining room, lounge area and playrooms. Where possible, there is a quiet space where children can do schoolwork and parents can work remotely.
In the kitchen, every family has their own fridge, freezer and dry food cupboard. They can shop, cook and eat together as they would at home. And yet, they’re where they need to be. Close to the child in hospital who needs them.
The biggest hurdle Ronald McDonald House face is lack of understanding. Until you need them, you probably don’t realise they exist. Or if you do, you might think they’re funded by McDonalds, so they don’t need your help.
In fact, that’s not the case. They are the chosen charity for McDonalds, and in 2016 they raised £3 million from collection boxes in McDonalds restaurants. Staff, suppliers and owners of McDonalds restaurants fundraise for them too, but that’s not enough.
It costs £25 per night for a family to stay in a Ronald McDonald House. The charity is always striving to make them better and more homely. They also want to build more, and accommodate more families. Please do head to their website to find out how you can help families who really need it.