THE 24-strong team of play specialists have an under-rated but crucial role in caring for patients at the children’s hospital.

Armed with toys, games, arts and crafts and smiles from ear-to-ear they set about cheering up the children and making their experience as positive as possible.

Sonia Dugmore, who has been a play specialist in Oxford since 1999, said: “You have to have that positive outlook and persona to help the children through whatever it is they are going through.

“We need to be there for the families as well – we can take away some of the strain for the parents at a very difficult time.

“The move has been great for us – it’s so much better working in a dedicate children’s hospital, we have everyone under the same roof to cater for every child’s needs.”

But the mother-of-three joked that her positivity at the hospital didn’t always make it back to her home in Chinnor.

She said: “People often say my kids must be lucky having a mum who is a play specialist – but I’m miserable when I get home.”

Money raised by Oxford Mail readers from the OX5 Run and other fundraisers over the years has also equipped the team with an arsenal of entertainment to brighten up the day for some of the county’s most poorly children.

Part of the 10th anniversary campaign will continue in the same vein and also fund a new outdoor play area.

Mrs Dugmore said: “It’s what allows us to do our jobs – the toys and arts and crafts that we can distract the children with.

“In recent years we have been able to buy iPads as well for the patients to use and it’s so important people keep raising money – we are so grateful.”

But Gemma Clarke, from Southmoor, might just be even more grateful to fundraisers and the play specialists at the hospital.

Her three-year-old daughter Maiya has polymicrogyria – a condition in which the brain doesn’t develop properly from a young age – and pstosis which caused her eye to droop.

As a result she has problems learning to talk, swallowing and a delayed development in terms of growth.

The 37-year-old said: “We have been up to the hospital quite a lot over the past few years – in so many different departments.

“The staff here have been absolutely fantastic – I don’t have a bad word to say about them.

“They are always there to help you and answer any questions and they are brilliant with Maiya, always blowing bubbles with her, which makes her smile.”

She added: “She’s doing well and has just started horse-riding with a disability riding school near Wallingford and she loves it.”

Caroline Stone, from North Hinksey, has been taking blood tests at the children’s hospital since day one and is now in her 20th year up at the John Radcliffe site.

She said: “We work very closely with the play team and work to get the job done as quickly and as smoothly as possible.

“They can distract the children while I take the blood – it’s about making sure it’s the most comfortable experience as it possibly can be.”