to find out more about The Promise in Aberdeen, contact

Gette Cobban

Senior Development Officer (The Promise)


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May 7, 2024

The Promise in Aberdeen: Sunrise Partnership marks 10 years of support for bereaved children and young people

Established in 2014, Sunrise Partnership is a small, local charity that provides holistic support for children and young people up to the age of 18 who have been bereaved and/or affected by significant loss in Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire.

Sunrise Partnership commits to creating a welcoming, caring, and non-judgmental space for individuals, maintaining confidentiality whilst respecting, valuing, and listening to those affected by bereavement and/or significant loss.

The charity’s vision is for all children and young people to receive the support they need, at the time they need it, for them to achieve their full, true potential as life continues despite suffering loss or bereavement.

Michelle Southgate, Support Service Manager, sits down with Gette Cobban, ACVO’S Senior Development Officer (The Promise), to discuss the support that Sunrise Partnership offers to young people experiencing loss, plans for marking the 10th anniversary of the charity, and how the organisation follows The Promise, Scotland’s guarantee of ensuring all children grow up safe, loved, and respected.

“Over the past decade, Sunrise Partnership has grown from being established by one woman, Eileen Wheeler, to a dynamic team of 10,” says Michelle.

Eileen identified that there was a gap in support for bereaved young people and those experiencing significant loss or estrangement of a relationship, particularly for care experienced young people through moving to a kinship arrangement or perhaps by adoption. Secondary losses such as moving out of the family home or change of school are also prevalent in these situations.

“Our two Area Managers, myself and our group of six sessional support workers come from a variety of professional backgrounds, all with extensive children and young people’s experience, and an understanding of bereavement and support,” Michelle explains.

“Some of our workers also have lived experience, allowing for a really strong holistic approach to what we do at Sunrise, and giving us lots of insight from different backgrounds to provide the best support possible.”

Sunrise Partnership’s premise is to reduce barriers to essential support. The charity’s services are completely free of charge, and the confidential support lasts for as long as the individual may want, until it comes to a natural ending. A member of the Sunrise team travels to meet the young person at a place of their choosing, where they will feel most comfortable.

With 1 in every 29 5-16 year olds suffering bereavement of a parent or sibling, an average of one child in every school class, Michelle says: “It is quite sobering to think of the prevalence of childhood bereavement.

“Not every young person will need specialist support, but some will and that is what we are here to help with.

“The young person has to want to have the support and want to engage. We would never push them; we would always make sure that they are on board and we would take it at their pace.

“In terms of our referral process, we simply ask anyone in need of support to phone us or send an email and tell us a little bit about their situation.

“We then contact them and have a very sensitive, but much fuller, conversation to build a better picture around what support is needed and to assess if we are the best service for them at that time.

“We build a picture of the young person’s needs to develop a bespoke support programme around their developmental age and stage. We also obtain fully informed consent from the parent or carer.”

In addition to their one-to-one, direct support, Sunrise Partnership offer group support, either as a Family Loss Day or an extended ‘Seasons for Growth’ programme in schools.

Detailing Sunrise’s Loss Days, Michelle explains this offer of family support which involves a group of siblings and their parents or carers connecting together as a family unit over the course of one day to discuss their feelings and to openly speak about their grief and loss.

“Families find our Loss Days really helpful and supportive,” says Michelle.

“It is an intensive approach, where we have lunch together, do lots of fun things such as crafts and activities, and just give them as a family a chance to talk together.

“They share their experiences about how they are feeling, what their perception is of the situation, and what supports that they need moving forward.”

Sunrise Partnership’s peer support indoor climbing group for young people develops their resilience and builds their confidence.

Michelle shares one parent’s explanation of the positive impact a Loss Day had for her three children: “We are all doing really well and all feel our day with you was extremely helpful and valuable. I really can’t thank you both enough. I feel the children have all really turned a corner in terms of the losses. Things have really turned around.”

“Since coming on board in October 2020, I also developed peer support groups,” Michelle continues.

“This is an additional offer of support which complements our one to one support, working in partnership with Urban Uprising and Transition Extreme.

“This involves our indoor climbing groups, with our third group having started just recently. This is a really lovely group of six boys from across the city and Shire, aged eight to 12, all with a common experience of bereavement or significant loss.

“The young people for our peer support groups are hand-picked so that we get the dynamic right. Everybody then gets the best out of the group and the activity, so meeting their individual needs as well.

“We find that this support complements the work that we do by developing resilience, good decision-making, reduces isolation, builds self-esteem and self-confidence with the children.”

One foundation of The Promise details the importance of voice: children must be listened to. It is evident that through their support services this is one of Sunrise Partnership’s top priorities.

“It is so important for us to let young people have their voice and to be heard, and to recognise that their grief is important.

“It is absolutely vital for us at Sunrise that the young person is at the centre,” says Michelle.

“The young person has to want to have the support and want to engage. We would never push them; we would always make sure that they are on board and we would take it at their pace.”

Michelle continues: “We offer a neutral, safe space, which is all about the young person, where they are at the centre of everything.

“It is so important for us to let young people have their voice and to be heard, and to recognise that their grief is important.”

As a whole, Sunrise Partnership uses The Promise as a framework for their support services, something to look at and inspect. It gives the charity targets and a guide to work towards, ensuring they are getting things right for the children and young people.

In addition to their support for children, Michelle further details family support: “Listening to parents and hearing their story can be really supportive and helpful for the child too.

Brodie Smart was a nominee in the Young Supporter of the Year category at the Celebrate Aberdeen Awards 2023 for promoting Sunrise Partnership after receiving support from the charity.

“The family know that they are all in safe hands and that we are going to be with them every step of the way through the process.”

“We also offer quite a lot of scaffolding,” says Michelle, another crucial foundation of The Promise.

“We give them the space, the permission and the tools to be able to talk about feelings and to not feel embarrassed, scared, or ashamed.

“This scaffolding means anxiety is reduced dramatically by around 80% across all the young people that we speak to, from simply being able to talk freely, identify triggers, and find some coping mechanisms.”

Sunrise carefully matches the young person to their sessional worker to ensure that the best therapeutic support is given, and to ensure a strong, trustworthy relationship is developed. The individual is then seen every two to three weeks, for about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on their age.

“We help the young person talk about what has happened, to tell their story and help them understand what change and loss is, and the impact of this for them,” Michelle says.

“We are able to understand that grief is a normal response to bereavement, and that we all grieve differently. We all have different needs at different times. Grief is not something that we get over, it’s for a lifetime, but we can learn to grow bigger around it.

“Overall, with Sunrise’s support, we help them to meet their full potential, allowing them to cope with their bereavement or significant loss, and continue to live a fulfilling life despite their circumstances.

“With The Promise in mind, and as a framework, Sunrise will continue to ensure that the focus is on the child, on their needs, and their journey as they grow bigger around their grief.

“We also recognise that young people may want to re-process their grief as they mature and develop cognitively; additionally some young people may experience multiple bereavements. We therefore encourage and accept re-referrals to our service.”

Michelle feels strongly about matching the young person with their original support worker in these instances to continue the therapeutic relationship and avoid having to re-tell their story.

Sunrise Partnership has found that 90% of young people feel supported, respected and valued when they undertake their support work with a sessional worker. This gives unconditional regard and increases the young person’s self-esteem which in turn impacts positively on family relationships.

Michelle explains: “Parents often comment on the difference in their children’s behaviour, their countenance and communication at home. Their overall outlook on life becomes more positive, they begin to look forward again and engage with the things that they enjoy.

“We receive positive feedback from the referrers and the schools, saying that the individual is much more settled. Negative impacts of childhood bereavement can show as poor school attendance and poor attainment, both of which are being prevented through our support at Sunrise.”

After a decade of offering support to bereaved children and young people, the team at Sunrise Partnership is gearing up for big plans to mark their special milestone. It is certainly an exciting time for the charity, as Michelle eagerly says: “There’s lots of ideas, enthusiasm, and buzz around Sunrise at the moment as we begin to celebrate our 10th birthday.

The Sunrise Partnership team will be taking part again in this years’ Kiltwalk in June to celebrate their 10th anniversary.

“We will be doing some exciting events this year to mark the occasion, including the Aberdeen Kiltwalk in June, and a sunrise hike up Bennachie on the summer solstice with the whole Sunrise team.

“We also have plans for some fundraising events, as well as a ‘10 for Sunrise’ challenge for people to take part in. This will get folks to think creatively, fundraise for us and create a real buzz for our anniversary.

Michelle adds that this is a fantastic opportunity to promote the quality and consistency of Sunrise’s services: “We will be celebrating where we have come from, where we are going, and how we want to develop things as we look ahead.

“At Sunrise, we will continue to commit to our vision of offering a safe space for individuals, to allow the young person to receive the support they need as they suffer bereavement or a significant loss.

“With The Promise in mind, and as a framework, Sunrise will continue to ensure that the focus is on the child, on their needs, and their journey as they grow bigger around their grief.

“There is a difference between listening to young people and hearing young people. We are listening to understand, not to respond. We really pride ourselves in allowing the child to open up about their experience with grief, when they are ready to do so, and supporting their next steps in their journey.

“Being a little link in the chain in their life story at a really difficult time is such a privilege, and I look forward to see where Sunrise goes in the future as we continue to support more children, young people and families in their bereavement.”

To find out more about Sunrise Partnership, visit their website at To find contact details for referrals across Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, visit

To find out more about The Promise in Aberdeen, visit ACVO’s dedicated webpage at

This article originally appeared in the May edition of ACVO News, you can read the magazine and subscribe below. All past editions are available to read at

to find out more about The Promise in Aberdeen, contact

Gette Cobban

Senior Development Officer (The Promise)


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