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Charity that helped family rebuild after tragedy of Lillian's death

AFTER 14-year-old Lillian Groves was knocked down and killed outside her home in New Addington, her family received counselling from Woodside Bereavement Service. Now they are to hold a special event to raise money so that others receive the same help. Counsellor Debbie Stanbridge tells chief reporter Gareth Davies why the charity is so grateful for their support

THE Groves family gather for a photograph at a treetop adventure playground.

Around a year earlier, 14-year-old Lillian Groves was hit by a car and killed outside her home in Headley Drive, New Addington.

This was the first time the family had been pictured as a group without her.

The outing was organised by Woodside Bereavement Service as a way for families to make new memories following a death.

Two years on the Groves look back at the image not as a reminder of loss, but a key moment in their attempt to rebuild their lives.

"When families are bereaved, it becomes so ingrained in their lives that they forget they have a new family unit and they have to learn how to function again," said Debbie Stanbridge, who counselled the young members of the Groves family.

"It's really good to hear that day was something they all remember because that was the whole point of it: they could look back and think about doing something they enjoyed.

"It was to build new memories and to engage with other families who were in similar situations so they didn't see themselves as isolated cases."

Seven families took part in the away day at Carroty Wood, an adventure centre in Kent.

The event was free, like all of Woodside's services, and included refreshments and activities designed to encourage families to bond, both among themselves and with one another.

The Groves family assumed the charity had run similar events in the past and would do again. In fact that was the first of its kind and Woodside has been unable to hold others.

Eighteen months ago it lost all its funding, a modest sum of £5,000 from sources including building firm Wates, Churches Together in England and NHS Croydon.

"We applied to Children in Need thinking we fitted in with what they want to achieve," said Debbie.

"It was a really arduous process of form-filling but we didn't meet the criteria."

While Woodside is run by volunteers it did have enough money to employ three children's project workers, including Debbie, who have had at least 50 hours of specialist training.

Now it only has one, who works on a voluntary basis. Debbie has had to go back to work as a teacher.

Not only has the loss of income meant they have yet to organise further away trips, which cost around £2,000, but waiting times for counselling are increasing.

"We try not to call it a waiting list but the time before someone's referral and when they receive support is beginning to grow, especially in our children's service, and we've never had that," said Debbie.

That is why the Groves' fundraising ball, to be held on June 12 next year, could hardly be better timed.

The family have organised the event to say thank you to those who supported Lillian's Law, their campaign to change the law on drug-driving.

The teenager was knocked down in June 2010 by a speeding driver who smoked cannabis before getting behind the wheel.

In a joint effort with the Advertiser the family prompted significant changes in drug-driving legislation, including a new offence and roadside testing devices, the first of which will see use by police this Christmas.

All proceeds from the Lillian's Law Trust Fundraising Ball, to be held at The Warren, in Bromley, will go to Woodside, in the hope that they will hold similar activity days for bereaved families.

"It's a lovely gesture," said Debbie. "Giving money to bereavement services is not high on anyone's agenda. Unless they used the service themselves, it's not in their minds. We're so grateful for their support."

Woodside offers free counselling to anyone who has experienced severe shock or depression following a death, divorce or accident.

'She understood me....' MEGAN Groves, 19, describes how Woodside's counselling service helped her cope after Lillian's death. "Debbie supported me in every way. She listened to what I needed to say, helped me cope with grief and most importantly she was someone who I could talk to who wouldn't judge me or the judge the things I said. "It was a safe comfortable environment where crying was allowed to happen. She understood the feelings I had and never questioned 'what's wrong?' when I was feeling low. "She simply knew the answer and supported me by talking about memories and how to create memory flashes (decorated cards with a flash memory on). "My session would be on a Friday after school onsite, as this was a place which I felt open to talk. She even dropped me home after as she knew I had developed a fear of crossing roads. "Since counselling I feel I'm more able to express my emotions and that crying really is ok. "Without Debbie's help I think all the weight on my shoulders would be pushing me lower and lower to the ground until I couldn't get back up. "Thankfully that weight has been lifted and now I can see the light at the end of the tunnel." 'A big help' LILLIAN'S mother Natasha and aunt Michaela both received counselling from Woodside, as did her younger brother Oliver and cousin Megan. "Megan went into sixth from in the September after Lillian's accident but within a few weeks she started finding things really difficult," said Michaela. "Every time I got home from work she would be in bed. There was no reason for it other than she couldn't cope with day-to-day things. "Her school rang to say they were really concerned about her because when it came to leaving at the end of the day she was distraught at having to cross busy roads. "Counselling has made her realise that sometimes you lose people you love in awful circumstances and it's about being able to pick yourself up and live your life. I know Woodside helped her hugely." When the Groves family chose to raise money for the charity they did not realise it had been unable to run any more family fun days. "It's such a shame because it was so good," said Natasha. For more information on the ball visit the family's website Lillianslaw.moonfruit.com

Charity that helped family rebuild after tragedy of Lillian's death

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