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'Robins Project' hopes to capture memories of families battling terminal illnesses

A Peterborough-mum is out on a mission to gift lifelong memories to families battling terminal illnesses- Would you like to help? 
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Kristi Atkinson has launched the Robins Project, with an aim to capture precious memories for families battling terminal illnesses, such as that of Sophie. (Picture: Kristi Atkinson)

Kristi Atkinson, a mum to two young kids, works with CHUMS charity as a mental health intervention worker, but is also a wedding and family photographer who enjoys capturing those special moments. 

She runs the HumanKnd photography company alongside a friend in America, and has been been photographing families for over ten years - and has now launched ‘the Robins Project’ after a memorable shoot with a family who lost their daughter Sophie to cancer in December last year.

The family had asked Kristi to photograph them, and despite being fearful of the shoot being an emotional and a sad one, Kristi said it was an amazing experience and nothing like she had imagined. It was fun with lots of happy memories and laughter. 

This gave the 30-year-old from Orton Southgate the encouragement to start the Robin Project, which aims to celebrate the lives of children and adults facing life-threatening conditions by providing professional photography sessions, free-of-charge. 

She has launched a fundraiser, inviting members of public and local businesses to sponsor these sessions for families. 

Sharing details, Kristi said: “I have been photographing families for many years but last year I was asked to photograph a family whose teenage daughter had terminal cancer. 

"The session wasn't focused on death or dying, it was focused on family, on joy, on having fun and climbing trees and by the end, throwing berries at each other! It was the greatest honour to work with Sophie and her family and to capture such treasured moments. Not long after this session, The Robins Project was born. 

“Sadly, Sophie passed away December 10, 2020. Sophie's Mum  Helen said to me about the session "Thank you for your part in helping us capture some memories of Sophie. We look on the photos and smile at the memories of her quirkiness and brilliant attitude to life. I have used their story as an inspiration behind the project.

“The Robins Project aims to celebrate the lives of children and adults facing life-threatening and Terminal conditions by providing professional photography sessions, free-of-charge.  

“I’ve worked at Sue Ryder, Thorpe Hall Hospice and I’ve had a really close friend pass away of breast cancer at 34 but I did not get a chance to take these photos with her, that's when I thought people should have that option. 

“This project is from the heart and I want to be able to bring this project to people's attention and to get it out there to as many people as possible.  

“I would love if businesses or people in the community would sponsor these sessions. Any contribution that people make would be appreciated. 

“I want to eventually start a charity and offer these sessions at hospices and hospitals, I want to be able to gift these memories to as many people as I can. 

“The safety of the beneficiary and their families is of the upmost importance, so to ensure that, we are unable to conduct any sessions while the current restrictions of lockdown are in place.

"We hope that this changes very soon as  life-threatening and terminal illness does not stop because of Covid-19. We will be working with the guidelines and the advice to ensure that as soon as we can restart the sessions, we will do so. Once the sessions restart, please be reassured that we will be following all of the guidelines on PPE, social distancing and the use of sanitiser.” 

The photography business has been slow due to the pandemic. Kristi who has had mental health struggles in the past has found it hard to cope with the lockdown and the isolation it brought. Nevertheless, she found comfort with her camera. She kept herself busy with taking pictures of the local area and the community during the lockdown. 

Shedding light on the lockdown experiences, Kristi said: “I love my job and I classify as a key worker. But it’s been tough. We have been doing a lot of virtual sessions with children at work.  

“With the lockdown restrictions, you can’t go anywhere, isolation is a big factor. There's nothing else to do apart from your routine-work, sleep, wake up, sleep. Nothing new. 

“In the first lockdown, I went around taking pictures of the neighbours and people in the local area. I have lived here for nearly 10 years but felt like I am only getting to know the local people now. So that was one positive- it definitely brought communities together. It was nice to speak to these people and capture the memories.  It really helped me keep going otherwise it’s quite hard to keep your spirits up in the current situation.” 

You can support Kristi in the campaign through the fundraising page and if you wish to contact Kristi for a shoot, her website is the best option.