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Douglas House

This year we are celebrating our 39th year anniversary as the world’s first children’s hospice.

Douglas House

This year we are celebrating our 39th year anniversary as the world’s first children’s hospice.

This story is drawn from stories told by the staff who knew Douglas House so well. We call this the story of Douglas House, but of course it is only one version of the many, many overlapping, interlinking, sometimes contradictory stories of Douglas House.

Once upon a time, there was a house. And it was called Douglas House. And it was named Douglas for a boy who was at first not expected to become a man. And it was for all the unexpected young adults. Because with the joy of them becoming adults came the question: ‘now what?’

And one of the answers was Douglas House, built for the shape and feel of these unexpected young adults. And at first it was a quiet house. The young people didn’t come. They certainly didn’t come to die. So the kitchen and the bar and the music room and the wide, bright corridors were quiet.

But then the house began to grow, and to change. It began to understand that these amazing young adults didn’t want somewhere to die, but somewhere to live. And as the house changed, so the young people came.

And the young people looked at the house. And what they saw were windows. And these were windows of opportunity. And through these windows, and in times when they were well enough, they saw amazing things. They saw animals (endless animals – meerkats and penguins, snakes and dogs, horses and eagles). They saw beds lined up in living rooms for one precious evening of being with your mates. They saw music festivals, with tents full of equipment and wheelchairs caked in mud. They saw quiz nights, a level playing field, competing with people not paid to be with you. They saw days turn into nights and night into days; rhythms of life simply not possible most of the time. They saw an art room full of possibility, and a music room full of song. They saw the glory of Old Trafford (even when they lost, even when it took all of the hours of the day to get there and back), and the sparkle of Strictly, and the glamour of an Oxford ball. They saw a trip to McDonalds, an afternoon at the cinema, time spent in the water. They saw ordinary things, little things, things which suddenly become possible. And they made choices and found their voices.

And when they came others came too. And they saw each other and said, ‘I know you.’ And ‘I see you.’ And together they baked towering cakes and drank the night away and tasted high teas and created works of art and battled in online worlds. They were silly and they were serious. And they felt the feelings, and talked the talk, and walked the walk. And they came back and said, ‘do you remember when?’

And the young people captured the moment, and seized the day, and bravely stepped into the unknown. And – for moments, hours, days – they could just be. And they could try on new clothes and new hats, and step into different shoes. And they had space to be themselves, and to find out what that might mean. And they felt the music.

And what made all this possible was time. The care team (and all the teams) brought their own gifts – song, creativity, gentleness, respect, energy. But it was time that made it all possible. Time to plan and think and then plan some more. They hired penguin suits (both kinds), they found beds that were quiet, they made a wedding in a day. They held all the practicalities tightly, and they pushed themselves to their limits to show that it was possible. And all the thinking and planning created a space in which good enough was never enough.

And this time and this space created a special feeling. A special feeling that all the words and all the stories can’t convey. And the feeling was something like laughter, and a lot like possibility, and a bit like dreaming. And the feeling was the reason that so many questions were answered with another: ‘why not?’

And the young people lived lives to the full, knowing that their lives were short. And many died. And some died at Douglas House, and were held here – the last thing which could be done for them and their families. And they were all loved and all mourned.

Stories do not always end neatly, or in the ways we would like them to. And so the story of Douglas House came to an end, at least in the form of the house itself. The stories and lives held within it were scattered; ‘to be continued’ happened in different places, with different people. And the unexpected young adults continue to be, and continue to need what they gained from Douglas House.

And there was and is a great sadness that the house fell silent. But for all the people who loved Douglas House, we offer this one version of the story; because it’s more important to remember than to forget.