Today’s allergy entrepreneur sharing her story is Hailey Phillips, the founder and creator of Allergy Adventures, which aims to help “children with food allergies live safe, happy and healthy lives, filled with fun and adventure”. If you visited the Allergy Show this year, you’ll no doubt have seen the Allergy Adventures zone for children. Every time I passed, the stand was buzzing with children taking part in craft activities whilst parents snapped up the fun storybooks about Minoo, Woot and friends and their magical lunchbox adventures. Allergy Adventures are already improving children’s experiences at hospital allergy clinics and will soon be increasing allergy awareness in schools. Here Hailey talks about the many ways in which she is helping children to have a positive mindset about their allergies.
Hi Hailey. It’s great to talk to you about Allergy Adventures. Let’s start with how it all began. I know you have coeliac disease … but that a huge inspiration behind you founding Allergy Adventures was your niece?
Yes, my niece was diagnosed with an egg allergy at eight months old. But it wasn’t until she was two that I started to realise how emotionally damaging food allergy can be for children as they get older.
Birthday parties, school lunches and seasonal festivities like Easter, Pancake Day and Christmas, are just a few of the times when children with allergies can feel excluded.
And it’s not just the feelings of ‘missing out’; extreme allergic reactions can be terrifying. My niece had an anaphylactic reaction at her nursery when she was two, and we’re currently going through a series of food challenges to nuts after she had a reaction late last year. She’s now seven and still hasn’t shaken the pesky allergies off.
So with all of this in mind, I gave up my full-time job in London as a graphic designer – sorry mum! – to create Allergy Adventures®, with the aim of helping children with food allergies learn about their condition in as light-hearted a way as possible. I created the maze design in recognition of the confusing journey that parents start on when their child is diagnosed with food allergies.
But the journey can be rewarding when you find a way forward; be that a successful free from bake in the kitchen, or finding a new free from product to try. And for children, the maze creates a look that’s fun, and I mix this up with exciting ideas and new things for them to discover. This helps them to manage the seriousness of food allergy, and to keep themselves safe around food.
You have a range of children’s storybooks where characters with different allergies go on all sorts of adventures. Was this something you created originally for your niece?
Yes. I wanted to help my niece realise that, in spite of her food allergies, she could enjoy a variety of other foods that wouldn’t make her ill. And above all, make it a fun learning experience, so I came up with my quirky characters who go to magical places and have cool adventures with allergy-friendly foods. There’s an onion ringmaster at a circus and a beetroot monkey at a zoo, who does a very funky dance. It sounds a bit wacky, doesn’t it? I obviously read way too much Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when I was a kid!
But behind the fun there are serious messages in the books that teach children how to keep themselves safe around food, and to always look out for hidden allergens.
“My Seaside Adventure” hit the shops before Christmas, which tells the story of Woot who is allergic to nuts. Another character Boskus is peanut allergic – is he going to have his own adventure sometime soon?
Ahh Boskus, I’m a bit worried that he might be a victim of Allergy Adventures®’ success! Although his story is all sketched out – he has a pretty wild time on some dodgems made from jelly – he may have to wait a little before I can bring him, and his funfair adventure, to life.
I’ve just been awarded a grant by the Wellcome Trust to develop an online workshop for schools – I’ll come back to that in a minute – so that will knock out much of 2014. And beyond that… well, I’m hoping 2015 will be his year!
I’m even wondering whether he might make his début in an eBook, I’d love to know what readers think of that idea…
Last year you launched the “Allergy Adventures Passport Pack” at St Thomas’ Hospital in London and this is now also being used at the James Paget Hospital in Great Yarmouth and by Dr George du Toit in his private allergy clinic. Can you tell us a bit about the passport pack? Are there plans to introduce it in other hospitals across the country?
The idea for the Passport Pack came about after I saw how stressful and scary children can find a trip to the allergy clinic. Often parents aren’t really sure what will happen, and so families arrive at the hospital feeling anxious, with vague thoughts about being pricked on the arm and maybe having a reaction.
I wanted to create something that would appeal to children, explain clearly what would happen to them during their visit, and also instills a proud sense of achievement on completing their journey. When children arrive, they are given their own Allergy Adventures® Passport and as they visit each part of the clinic – height, weight, dietician, etc – their Passport is stamped by the nurses and consultants. At the end of the visit they receive a reward certificate and a sticker.
I’m currently working behind the scenes to introduce the Allergy Adventures® Passport Pack into other hospitals, but I’ve also had some great support from parents who have been mentioning the Passport to their clinics. That’s what happened at Great Yarmouth; a parent asked her hospital to consider the idea, the medical staff got in touch and now the Passport is up and running. Never underestimate parent power!
Your online workshop for schools sounds like a fantastic project – tell us more!
Yes, this was huge news for Allergy Adventures! Recently I was awarded a grant by the Wellcome Trust to develop an online, science-based workshop for schools, to help improve awareness and understanding of food allergy in schools.
The workshops will include fun, educational videos, which will provide the focus for classroom activities. Through a series of cool experiments and explorations, children will learn facts about the human body, such as how the immune system reacts to a threat (allergens) and how medicine can be used to counteract a reaction. Children will also learn key safety points too, to help keep friends with allergies safe.
I’ll be working with a team of experts to produce the workshop, including paediatric allergy specialist, Dr Adam Fox, and psychologist, Dr Rebecca Knibb. It’s a great opportunity to build awareness and understanding about food allergies in schools, and will hopefully lead to children with allergies feeling less excluded.
It’s very much in the early stages, but I’ll be keeping everyone informed of my progress on Twitter and Facebook!
And whilst the workshop is developed you have an educational safety poster for schools? Where can people get hold of a copy for their school?
By visiting: http://shop.allergyadventures.com/products/allergy-poster
Finally, you are currently carrying out some research into cooking lessons, food allergies and schools? How can Nutmums.com readers help?
They can head over to my blog – HERE – and answer my very short questionnaire. Or they can email the answers to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. The results so far have been fascinating, and there’s a clear need for teachers, at both primary and secondary level, to be more aware about food allergies.
Thanks so much for talking to us, Hailey!
For a review of the Allergy Adventures “My Seaside Adventure” nut free storybook, click here.