The Nightingale Cottages initiative will support those who need it at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.
The scheme is the brainchild of Gillian Baker-Cresswell, who came up with the idea at the very start of the pandemic.
“It was when all those horrendous bits of television were hitting us and we were all feeling very afraid," she said. “I was sitting in my garden in the sunshine feeling as safe as I could be and in the next moment felt crushing guilt and responsibility, thinking, what can I do to help?
“I thought the biggest problem was the mental health of the nurses, doctors and staff who are dealing with something they’re having to learn on the spot, having to deal constantly with people dying. They’re not robots, they’re human beings and they are going to need huge emotional and mental support.”
She enlisted the support of Nikki Brierley, director of Northumbria Coast and Country Cottages, who offered to look after the bookings and logistics, and there are now more than 50 breaks pledged for the coming months.
A recent process has seen them allocated to deserving staff, based on nominations from colleagues.
The first selected was Janice Coleby, a healthcare assistant at North Tyneside General Hospital, who said: “I was really emotional when I found out I’d been selected because I couldn’t believe someone would do something like this for me.
"The pandemic has been really tough so it’s really nice to have a special break to look forward to, and I’d like to thank everyone involved in Nightingale Cottages. It means a lot to me.”
Another to benefit is Anna Wood, matron at Berwick Infirmary.
“It’s been a very challenging year for us all and it’s been stressful making sure that patients and staff are well looked after,” she said.
“Away from work, I also have caring commitments at home, so a stay in a cottage will be a wonderful and much-needed change of environment, while at the same time meaning I’m close enough to get home quickly if I need to in an emergency.”
A pilot scheme has already taken place for a small number of doctors.
Nikki added: “Given everything that NHS staff have been through, we felt that offering breaks for those that need rest and recuperation was the least we could do to underline the feelings of gratitude and care we have for them.
“They have been working so hard, for so long, even before the pandemic hit us, that we were in no doubt that there will be many that need some respite and a chance to rest, recover and restore.”
Nightingale Cottages is seeking to raise funds to grow and develop initiatives so that, year after year, it is able to help those in need of respite and care. The long-term aim is to buy a cottage so that immediate respite is available.
Brenda Longstaff, head of Northumbria Healthcare’s Bright charity, said: “This initiative is an incredibly generous gesture and will be very gratefully received by our staff. I would like to offer my sincere thanks to Gillian, Nikki and all those who have pledged properties or made donations.”