There is nothing quite like witnessing the joy of a child unwrapping their Christmas gifts.

But for the many families who have lost their little ones, getting through the festive season and the pain of what might have been can be particularly difficult.

Thankfully, Huddersfield-based charity SANDS is there to help.

It was set up nearly four years ago by Linthwaite couple Gareth and Rachael Brann after they lost their son Mason aged 22 weeks.

Every day in the UK eleven babies are stillborn and a further six die soon after their birth and the couple wanted to do their bit to help local families.

They started a local support group for SANDS, which is the UK’s leading stillbirth and neonatal death charity.

Jo Naylor centre manager of Talkthru with Rachael Brann of SANDS
Jo Naylor centre manager of Talkthru with Rachael Brann of SANDS

The charity works to raise awareness of the devastating impact of these deaths.

Its groups provide support and information for parents who have experienced this painful loss.

Rachael, chair of Huddersfield and Halifax SANDS, said: “Christmas is such a hard time for anyone who has lost anyone.

“Everyone around is really excited and it’s a time when all the family gets together.

“Parents can feel isolated, sad and alone.

“They will be thinking about what they are missing and what could have been.

“The group helps by just listening and being a support to anyone affected.

“The meetings are a safe environment to share and reflect on loss.

“We also have four befrienders who can offer a listening ear at this difficult time.”

SANDS group at one of their awareness events

Rachael and Gareth were inspired to start a local group after their own heartbreak led them to a group in Oldham.

They lost Mason to miscarriage at just over halfway through the normal pregnancy period and needed help coping with their sudden and unexpected bereavement.

They found SANDS after reading about its work and went on to raise thousands as well as starting their own support group based at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary.

The group was the first of its kind in the town for around 10 years.

Today the group meets twice a month, once at the Lindley hospital and also in the learning suite at Calderdale Royal Hospital.

Rachael says that recent storylines in both Eastenders and Hollyoaks has helped highlight the issue and show bereaved families that they are not alone.

She said: “I’m glad stillbirth is shown as it is reality it does happen.

Huddersfield MP, Barry Sheerman cuts the ribbon to open the Little Footprints Suite bereavement room within the labour ward of the Calderdale Hospital with Rachael Branns (COR) Chair of bereavement charity, Sands, Midwives, Sarah Hall and Sara Balmforth, Head of Midwifery, Anne Marie Henshaw and parent and Sands member, Jo Grace.
Huddersfield MP, Barry Sheerman cuts the ribbon to open the Little Footprints Suite bereavement room within the labour ward of the Calderdale Hospital with Rachael Branns (COR) Chair of bereavement charity, Sands, Midwives, Sarah Hall and Sara Balmforth, Head of Midwifery, Anne Marie Henshaw and parent and Sands member, Jo Grace.

“The phone lines went crazy at SANDS head office and there has been a increase of people reaching out for support since.

“It’s still quite a taboo subject and something that I’m trying to combat with awareness events.

“It is so heartbreaking and many people often think after 12 weeks they are safe - which I did too .

“It’s not the case as every pregnancy is a miracle and often many people take this for granted.”

The local group has continued to expand its services and today it offers bereavement training for professionals.

SANDS also runs awareness days throughout the year as well as a variety of fundraising events.

They include a balloon release held in the summer as well as the Lights of Love service.

Lights of Love service held in Huddersfield

This is held each December at St Thomas’ Church in Lockwood and allows families to remember their lost babies or loved ones.

In October the charity held a masquerade ball at Cedar Court Hotel in Ainley top with Talkthru.

This charity is based in Huddersfield town centre and provides free counselling for anyone who has experienced a pregnancy or baby loss, no matter how long ago.

Centre manager Jo Naylor said: “We are here to support both men and women who want to talk about their difficulties.

“Living with a loss is stressful any time of the year but Christmas brings added difficulties for grieving parents as they face an empty cot and an empty heart.

“These difficulties can put a lot of strain on relationships and parents ability to work.”

Lights of love services at St Thomas's Church Longroyd Bridge,Rachael Brann with Rev George Courtnet ( centre) and Rev George Spencer.

The masquerade ball raised £3,000, a donation of which was given to Calderdale Royal to train midwives to support families affected by a stillbirth or neonatal death.

Rachael said: “Nearly four years on and the highlight is definitely the fact that most of our group members return month after month and tell us we help so much just by listening .

“I have made a really strong connection with Calderdale Hospital now too and we work together with the chaplain George Spencer.

“We are a extended team and now have six of us in the committee.

“We have come so far with two support meetings now, lots of fundraising and awareness and even two training events for improving bereavement care.

“This is SANDS official training which we as a group pay for.

“We really do hope we are making a huge difference for our area.”

READ MORE: Bank staff organise fundraiser for stillbirth and neonatal death charity Sands

READ MORE: Over 100 people remember their lost babies at a special service before Christmas

SANDS meets on the first Wednesday of the moth from 7-9pm and then at Calderdale on the third Wednesday at the same time.

The group also offers email support via Huddersfieldsands@yahoo.co.uk and have a closed group on Facebook so members can share their feelings with each other.