A MUM-of-two has praised a school and initiative for youngsters who have faced trauma for “love and care” given to sons after losing their dad to cancer.

Lewis Vowles, 8, and brother Joseph, 6, lost their dad to liver cancer less than two weeks after he was diagnosed.

Heathfield Primary School referred the siblings, who have been “up and down” since their loss, to the Bounce Resilience Academy, a programme for five to 10-year-olds in Darlington and County Durham who have experienced significant adversity.

Mum Nicola Vowles, 36, said: “They have been up and down as it’s still very early days with the bereavement. The whole initiative has been really emotional, built their confidence and just allowed them to just be kids.”

Dougie Vowles’ diagnosis started with a high temperature. He was treated for sepsis and, when antibiotics didn’t work, had specialist blood tests, an ultrasound and a CT scan. The 40-year-old was diagnosed with aggressive liver cancer and died on May 22, just eight days later.

“It’s been very difficult to adjust, not having him at home. We had been together for 18 years and married for 16. It would be our 16th anniversary on Friday the 21st,” Mrs Vowles said.

“I can't praise Bounce enough for the love and care they have shown my boys. The next group have good things to look forward to.

“Having time without them and having time to grieve has been so important. I’m grieving for my whole family; my boys will never see their daddy again.”

Bounce Academy, a Durham Constabulary-funded initiative that started in 2016, focuses on equipping children with skills they need to adapt to life’s challenges and setbacks.

A group of 10 children took part in the programme last year, which started in summer.

Hannah Bell, of Hannah Bell Clarity which founded Bounce, said: “The boys had a difficult year and Bounce gave them and mum a bit of respite, and probably helped them all get close to her again. Joseph and Lewis responded well to everything.”

Mrs Vowles tires easily due to chronic pain and chronic fatigue syndrome, and previously had her thyroid removed due to cancer.

Attending two days a week through summer, Lewis and Joseph visited an alpaca farm, did yoga, performing arts including drama and music, watched films, fed horses and made balloons.

A key element of the initiative is learning about hormones then associating them with emotions and actions. Mrs Bell’s ‘Brainy Bunch’ - characters that represent hormones – help the children learn, understand and better manage their situation.

The characters are currently used in 24 schools across Darlington and County Durham.

Mrs Bell, a 49-year-old retired police officer who was based at Durham, said: “If there is an incident, we would intervene and look at what they can do differently, use characters to help them understand emotions and what’s going on in their head. This is reinforced throughout. Like when they are eating, we’ll ask what hormone is being released - dopamine.”

While “equipping children with the tools they need to deal with individual challenges”, Bounce also focuses on building confidence, exploration and self-discovery through new experiences.

“It's the tiny things we do that make a huge difference,” she added. “When the children get picked, we send them a letter. That’s exciting for them as they won’t have had a letter before.

Scrap books and certificates were made for each child and presented them by Darlington Mayor at graduation ceremony at the end of summer, urging them to open the book whenever they feel low and have a ”mental vitamin”.

“A lot of these children do not achieve in school so this can often be the only certificate they have ever had. We tried to make it really special even though it was in a conference room. A local hotel leant us a red carpet and everything.”

While Mrs Bell is looking to expand the initiative elsewhere, hoping to take it to Stanley next, she recognises “you can’t just pick these kids up, inspire them and then not be there anymore”. The group were brought together again at Christmas for pantomime and recently had a party at the police station.