Charity set up by Overton teen who died from cancer funds robots so other sick kids don't miss out on school

Youngsters stuck in hospital having cancer treatment can now feel closer to their school friends thanks to an innovative robot - and a Morecambe youngster is one of the first to try it out.

Tuesday, 29th September 2020, 7:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 29th September 2020, 9:05 am
Rachel O'Neil with Stuart Ryder-Muir and his 'Stubot'.

AV1 is a distance learning avatar that makes it possible for children and young adults with long-term illness to take part at school via an app on their phone or tablet.

When a pupil can’t attend class in person, AV1 simply takes their place.

Two of the AV1 robots have now been funded by Team Reece, a charity set up by Overton teenager Reece Holt, who passed away from cancer last year.

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Staff and pupils at Trumacar Primary School with the AV1 robot.

And they are already helping children unable to attend school due to ongoing treatment, including six-year-old Stuart Ryder-Muir, who was diagnosed with a brain tumour in July.

Stuart began specialist treatment in Manchester earlier this month, and his robot is now attending Trumacar Primary School on his behalf, ensuring he doesn't miss out on life in Year 1 with his friends.

Rachel O’Neil, Reece’s mum and founder of the Team Reece Children’s Brain Tumour and Cancer Charity, said: "It’s the hardest thing in the world having to isolate, to be afraid of a ‘cold virus’ isn’t it?

"More so for children! Parents of children fighting cancer understand how you feel in this current climate when your children can’t see family, friends, go out or to school!

Stuart Ryder-Muir in hospital following his diagnosis.

"Imagine how you're feeling about it and then add on top that your child is fighting for their life! Many treatment protocols last years and that’s before the after effects start.

"For a long time we have been shouting, raising awareness and funds to improve childhood cancer treatments and survival rates.

"We advocate for these children and those who will be diagnosed tomorrow, next week or next year because the treatments leave them with a decimated immune system, vulnerable to the point where a common cold or virus can and often does kill them!

"The isolation as a result impacts their mental health to a point where many are left with lifelong problems that directly stem from it! It’s one of the biggest impacts during treatment for children fighting cancer after the treatment itself.

Stuart Ryder-Muir with his 'Stubot'.

"We all know how much Reece longed to go school and the impact on his mental state was massive when he couldn’t.

"We can’t change the treatments in the short term - that’s a much longer road - but we can help with the isolation and education for these children fighting to live.

"The AV1 bot becomes an avatar for the child - it becomes their eyes, ears and voice!

"These wonderful bots allow the child to be present in class, see their peers, keep up with school work and keep the isolation and academic impact to a minimum.

Reece Holt, who passed away in January 2019 after setting up his Team Reece charity.

"Team Reece are over the moon to be able to fund a couple of these bots.

"Stuart is currently undergoing radiotherapy in Manchester - just when he should have been starting Year 1 at Trumacar Primary School.

"Team Reece has been supporting Stuart and his family and when they suggested the bot to Stuart's mum Beccy it brought many smiles.

"‘Stubot’ - as he’s been nicknamed - is now settled in class with Stuart's friends and feedback was simply ‘he loves it’."

Ceri Hamer, headteacher at Trumacar Primary School, said: "I am overwhelmed by this technology and how important it is. When children miss so much time with their friends at school during long hospital stays it can have a negative effect on their social and emotional development and long term mental health.

"The AV1 bot is essential for Stuart's well-being and for his learning and we feel very lucky to be able to use our Stubot in school. We need to fund many of these fantastic machines.''

Stuart's family will also be taking a much-needed holiday at Reece’s Retreat once Stuart has finished his radiotherapy.

Rachel added: "These bots are invaluable to children battling cancer but with the impact of Covid on our fundraising this year we do need your help to continue supporting families affected by childhood cancer.

"We are hoping people will sign up to the regular donation scheme we are launching and donate the cost of a coffee or a pint at your local.

"By donating just £3 a month we can continue to support these children and their families during and after treatment and fund vital research to improve outcomes and side effects."

For more details, go to the Team Reece fundraising page on Facebook.