Sarah Collins, First Touch Charity

First Touch is a small charity set up to support the work of our neonatal unit at St George’s, which treats hundreds of babies every year.

Here, we catch up with Sarah Collins, Charity Director, to find out more about the fantastic work they do.

How does First Touch support the neonatal unit at St George’s?

We fundraise for state of the art medical equipment, extra specialist training for nurses, and family welfare – which includes everything from bereavement support through to providing food, drinks and accommodation for families with a baby on the neonatal unit. We also buy presents for important events like Mothers’ Day and Christmas.

How did First Touch come about?

In 1998, two recently bereaved mums wanted to thank the neonatal staff at St George’s, and to create a lasting legacy in memory of their babies. Suzanne and Elaine contacted St George’s neonatal nurses Jeannie and Eleanor to ask how best to raise money to refurbish the bedrooms for families on the neonatal unit – and the charity was born. We have grown over the years thanks to fantastic support – and we now have two members of staff.

What emotions do parents experience when their baby is in the neonatal unit?

We see many parents experiencing a whole range of emotions. Entering the neonatal unit – with all its medical equipment and associated noises – can be really overwhelming and traumatic. This is not the birth plan that parents dreamed of. Parents can feel anxiety, sadness, isolation, guilt and anger – and the neonatal team work really hard to put parents at ease, although it can be difficult.

However, the overwhelming emotional response we see from families is huge gratitude to all the staff on the unit, including medical and administrative staff. The receptionists are always singled out for praise and thanks. They’re the first point of contact for families and their warmth, kindness and professionalism sets the tone for the rest of the neonatal unit.

How can people best support the work of First Touch?

We’ve been described as ‘a small charity with a massive cause and tiny patients’ and financial donations are always very gratefully received. Online donations can be made via JustGiving.

We also have an Amazon Wishlist for smaller items that make such a huge difference to families and staff on the neonatal unit which you can access here.

How do you support staff at the neonatal unit?

We know that the incredible staff give 100% 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As well as funding specialist training for them, we regularly provide team lunches and education meeting breakfasts. We’ve recently bought a new coffee machine for the staff room, and we ensured that meals and snacks were always available during the Covid pandemic.

We are hoping to make mindfulness sessions available to all staff soon. In April, a newly refurbished staff room on the unit was opened, which was paid for by our charity supporters as a thank you for all the tremendous work undertaken by the amazing neonatal staff members.

How did you become involved with First Touch?

My daughter, Izzy, was born three months early at St George’s. She spent three and a half months in neonatal, and underwent brain surgery two months after her birth. When we took Izzy home, I became a volunteer for the neonatal charity, to try to channel the gratitude I felt to the staff for saving Izzy’s life. I was then invited to apply to be employed by First Touch to manage the charity, and was delighted to be offered a job I absolutely love !

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