How Acorns Children’s Hospice is uniting all the strands of education, learning and development under one umbrella to enable individuals, teams and volunteers to grow, develop and succeed.

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Project and outcomes


Project overview

Over the last few years, Acorns Children’s Hospice has been working to create and maintain a people centred, positive working culture.

As part of this, Kerrie Sprason was recruited as Head of Talent Acquisition and Development. Kerrie led the development of Acorns Academy, which launched in September 2023 following 12 months of research and planning. 

Acorns Academy brings together all the streams of learning across the organisation so that all teams can access the development and education they need to grow, learn and succeed. As well as benefitting individual team members, this will help the hospice grow its own talent and develop a more sustainable workforce.


Acorns Academy is made up of around 120 bespoke learning journeys. These help ensure everyone can easily access the core and mandatory training that is specific to their role. The Academy also provides personalised development opportunities when individuals are ready to begin moving towards the next step in their career pathway.

The Academy uses a blended approach with a range of evidence-based teaching and learning methods. In 2023 it won the award for best service training programme at the global Lenny Training Awards.

Most importantly, the Academy has already enabled people to develop new qualifications and skills. Acorns now has three newly accredited coaches and six more people undertaking a Level 5 accredited coaching qualification. These coaches are already supporting colleagues and helping to develop a coaching culture across the organisation.

Four Health Care Assistants at Acorns are currently working towards becoming Trainee Nurse Associates through the Academy. They will later go on to become Registered Nurses with a paediatric palliative care focus, so they can care for and meet the complex needs of children with life limiting conditions. A second cohort of four people will begin this training in October 2024.

Facilitators, challenges and advice


Key faciitators

The project team created an ‘embed plan’ to help make sure everyone knew about the Academy and understood how to use it. This included:

  • working with the Marketing and Communications team to develop key messages
  • holding ‘Academy Campfire’ events in Acorns’ hospices and shops, to talk to people about their own specific learning journey and development
  • recruiting ‘Honorary Academy Trainers’ and subject matter experts from across the hospice to help develop and deliver training
  • a dedicated Academy support team to answer all queries.


Acorns is a complex organisation made up of three hospices, 45 charity shops and a number of clinical and non-clinical departments. To meet the needs of such a diverse and multi-layered range of teams and roles, the project team had to be flexible. They worked with each department to understand their needs and agree the approach needed.

Tips and advice


Complete a detailed stakeholder analysis and use this to decide what approach you need to take with different teams.

Be realistic about what can be achieved with the resources that you have.

Outsource when you need to. Invest wisely with someone that has experience.

Consistency is key. Ensure your team and senior leaders all communicate the same messages about the learning requirements across your organisation.

Never stop evaluating.

Be prepared for continuous work to embed and maintain standards.

Have a strong visionary learning and development practitioner/leader at the wheel.

Future development


The Academy is still in its infancy and there is much more to implement and embed, although it has had an incredible start!

The next key pieces of work include:

  • designing, creating and implementing the Volunteer Academy
  • preparing people to work towards the next stage in their career through a project called ‘Am I Ready’?
  • planning the Commercial Academy
  • creating and embedding a new and improved leadership development programme
  • utilising and generating further levy to grow a sustainable workforce through relevant qualifications
  • training and qualifications for non-medical prescribing
  • e-learning for medical devices
  • utilising insights and analytics for greater effectiveness.

The Talent Development Team has recently carried out a further organisational training needs analysis (TNA) which has helped develop further understanding of the individual, departmental and organisational developmental requirements moving forward.

Acorns is also in the final stages of agreements with six other children’s hospices to provide the Academy as a managed service for certain learning requirements.