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Our history

This year we are celebrating our 40th anniversary as the world’s first children’s hospice.

The world’s first children’s hospice

Based in East Oxford, Helen & Douglas House started life in November 1982, when Helen House and the children’s hospice movement was founded by Sister Frances Dominica.

As the world’s first children’s hospice, Helen House has gone on to inspire 54 others across the UK and around the world.

The inspiration for Helen House was a little girl called Helen who was left with severe and irreversible brain damage after an emergency operation to remove a brain tumour. Helen’s parents took her home from hospital to care for Helen in her family surroundings. A friendship developed between Sister Frances and Helen’s parents and on occasions Sister Frances looked after Helen for short periods to give her parents a break. From this friendship the idea of a small homely hospice for children sprung.

Explore our timeline

Newspaper cutting of Duchess of Kent at Helen & Douglas House


Helen House opened its doors in 1982 as the world’s first children’s hospice.

Set in peaceful grounds just 20 minutes’ walk from Oxford city centre, it’s a welcoming place where families can feel cocooned from the strain of 24/7 care of their very ill child.


The bereavement support team is created.


The world's second Children's hospice, Martin House, opened in North Yorkshire with staff trained by the Helen House team.


First children's hospice, outside of the UK, opened in Canada based on the Helen House model.


Our first siblings' support activity took place to support borthers and sister of Helen House children.

Helen and Douglas House shop in Oxford Covered Market


Our first shop opened in Oxford's Covered Market. Following this, over 30 shops were opened across Oxfordshire and the surrounding counties.

Late Queen in with late Prince Phillip walking out of door


Douglas House opened its doors in 2004 and cared for young adults aged 16 to 35. Officially opened by the late Queen, it was the world’s first specialist hospice exclusively for young adults and bridged the gap between a children’s and adults’ hospice.

It was named after a Helen House patient named Douglas. Sadly, Douglas died before he could see what the hospice was like, but his legacy lives on in our name.

Douglas House closed on 21 June 2018 due to a shortfall in funding but Helen House remains open to care for terminally ill babies, children and young people aged 0-18.

Camilla with child putting decoration on christmas tree


Her Majesty The Queen became patron of Helen & Douglas House.

In 2007 families were invited to decorate the Christmas Tree at Clarence House for the first time.

People spelling out 25 in a heart shape on grass


Helen & Douglas House celebrates 25 years of hospice care for children.


BBC2 broadcasts 'The Children of Helen House' documentary.

In 2009 they broadcast 'The Children of Helen House Revisited'. This raised the profile of the charity and dispelled popular misconceptions about hospices.


Volunteering team created. Since then we have had over 1,000 wonderful volunteers help us, worth over £1m to the charity.


Outreach nursing team created to support families at home.


Introduction of home and care team volunteering programme.

4 women Helen & Douglas House staff smiling with glass trophy


Helen & Douglas House was given the Queen's Award for Volunteering to acknowledge the amazing contribution its volunteers make to the charity

Tom Hollander and Sam cutting big cake at the hospice


Helen House was reopened by actor Tom Hollander after a major £1.5m refurbishment to make existing spaces in the hospice lighter, brighter and larger by reconfiguring the interior.


Specialist play team created.


Youth and transition worker role created to support transition planning to adult care.

3 hospice nurses with masks on and colourful uniforms


Outreach support increased due to COVID pandemic.


First cohort of nursing associates working at the hospice qualified.

Chairs and table under a tree in hospice garden


A new garden was completed in the summer creating a wonderful outside space for families to spend special moments in. This was made possible by an army of local businesses and community volunteers, coordinated by Darren Field, who came together to create something very special for local terminally ill children.

Her Majesty The Queen came to see the garden and meet some of the children and families.

Make a donation

We need to raise over £3 million each year to care for local terminally ill children at the hospice and at home.