30 January 2024 at 4:38 pm

Centre a ‘godsend’ for 70-year-old taking care of grandchildren after son’s death

Linda Hider

First published in The Press

When Linda Hider's son died from bowel cancer at 38, she was left taking care of two children under 10, a whole lot of grief and what seemed like an impossible task.

Linda, 70, was not only grieving the loss of her own child, but caring for two more who were grieving for their father. She didn’t know what to do.

It was then that she was told about a charity perched over the hill in Governors Bay - her “godsend”, as she came to call it.

Cholmondeley Children’s Centre helps families in Canterbury by allowing children under 13 to stay for days at a time when their families can’t cope or need a break.

However, 98 years after opening, the centre is now the one needing help - and fast.

Cholmondeley general manager Toni Tinirau said they have seen at least a 30% increase in families needing help since 2019.

Fifty-one families are currently on the waiting list, while the centre has six empty beds it cannot afford to fill.

The beds it can fill are falling apart, only able to be used because they have been temporarily glued and nailed back together.

“We sit over here in Governors Bay, often forgotten about, and people are under the impression that we are financially viable and really strong. We’re not,” said Tinirau.

“We’ve been raising funds for 98 years to pay the bills and open the doors every year.”

Just 20% of Cholmondeley’s funding comes from the Government, and it has to rely on public donations to make up the rest.

In recent years, the need for these donations has significantly increased.

Some 351 children stayed at Cholmondeley this year, with cost of living increases cited as the main reason most families needed help.

Hider is familiar with financial stress, which made Cholmondeley a vital service for her and her grandchildren.

“Being a senior citizen has not always been easy to manage, budget-wise. We live on a very tight budget.

“It’s been a rough month and a rough year.”

Tinirau has seen first-hand the impact of the rising cost of living.

After spending 20 years in the mental health sector, the thing that shocked her most was how often children were overlooked by the Government, she said.

“Very little is actually given to children's wellbeing and mental health, it’s the way systems are created and it’s the way we still raise children.”

At Cholmondeley, children have to want to stay there, Tinirau said. They have to be excited to play and willing to leave their families for the few days or weeks they are there.

They get to play, go to a school on-site, go out on a boat, ride bikes and visit the beach. The staff and children often refer to it as “school camp”.

For Hider, being able to send her two grandchildren to Cholmondeley for a few days every six weeks allows her to take a breath. Her eldest grandchild has an intellectual disability, which involves round-the-clock care.

As well as respite for her, it gives her grandchildren an opportunity to just be kids.

“They’ve had a lot of trauma in their lives,” Hider said. “They’ve learnt so much since they’ve been [going to Cholmondeley] … they absolutely love it.”

Tinirau said a lot of children arrived having never had a real childhood because their parents could not afford to do things with them.

“They can come in here and just be kids. All they’ve got to do when they walk through that door is drop their bags and pick up a childhood.”

Before Hider’s son died, she made a promise to him.

“I made a promise to their dad that when he passed away, I would take care of them until I leave this earth.”

Because of Cholmondeley, she has been able to keep that promise. “They’re incredible, amazing people.”

Tinirau urged Cantabrians to never underestimate the help they could give to Cholmondeley and the children staying there.

“We’re tasked, all of us adults in Canterbury, [to ensure] tamariki have the best opportunities, no matter who they are.

“More than ever we need your support, more than ever the children of Canterbury need your support.”

Donations to the Cholmondeley Children’s Centre can be made on its website here.

Written by Maddy Croad/THE PRESS

Photography by Alden Williams/THE PRESS