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My CUH Story - Steph Fairbain

Steph Fairbain
Steph Fairbain, therapeutic play manager

Before I started at CUH in 2007 I had worked with children and young adults for a long time. I trained in theatre, taught dance and drama and worked in youth clubs, children’s and community centres. I was training and assessing play and youth workers, when I realised how much I missed play! Being a play specialist has used all of my previous experience. I’ve tap danced to distract a patient while she had blood taken – she called out the steps and I did them. The doctor laughed so much. Another time a patient and I choreographed a song using spoons as part of a play session.

By the time this is published I will have retired from CUH. I’ve worked with hundreds of patients and I have never become bored of this role. There is always a new challenge. I am most proud of how I worked with a patient who needed a bilateral below the knee amputation due to meningitis. How do you prepare a child to wake up without her legs? We worked with a doll to explain what would happen and I sewed black patches onto the doll’s legs to match the ones on the patient. We talked about the procedure at length and afterwards I published an article about my learnings from the experience.

I am really proud of the play team at CUH too, they do fantastic work every day.


Becoming a play specialist takes dedication and years of training. I have mentored five of the play specialists at CUH and it is a lovely legacy to see some of them now be mentors themselves. There is real skill in the work they do, to initiate conversations with children of every age. To help a child who is so anxious and unpick those issues. We have the same methodologies to use but all children are different and the team responds uniquely every time. They find a way to enter a child’s world in a way that gives them a route back to us. I worked with a particular patient over some time, who was being regularly admitted, and struggled with the hospital setting. One day we went up to the tenth floor at Addenbrooke’s and just drew what we could see; it really helped her to get away from the stresses of the ward. The time I have spent with children has been really memorable.

Having the support of the wider staff on a ward has been important too. There have been some very difficult cases and sometimes I’ve had to shut myself away for a cry or have a cry when I got home after a shift. Having a colleague to call in the evening to talk it through has helped. Sharing experiences means there is always someone else who understands it.

My time at CUH has been a rollercoaster, the highs, the lows, the successes and the challenges. But the achievements are many.