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A newly refurbished family flat at Helen & Douglas House, designed by Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, was officially opened on Tuesday 21st May by Clare Periton, Chief Executive of Helen & Douglas House.

The Garden Flat had not been updated since Helen House opened as the world’s first children’s hospice in 1982. The décor and fixtures and fittings were very dated and the flat was not very private. They also wanted to put en-suite bathrooms into the two bedrooms which means two families could use the Garden Flat at the same time in future.

This is one of two family flats the hospice provides for families staying with them when their terminally ill children stay for respite care with their parents or for when their child is staying towards the end of their life or after they have died.
Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen and his wife Jackie got involved with Helen & Douglas House through the charity’s shop in Cirencester, getting to know the Shop Manager Faye. In July last year Laurence and his Executive Assistant, Dan Rajan, came to visit the hospice and the Garden Flat. Laurence then produced some designs for the flat including a suggested colour palette of teal, dusky pink, and mustard, plus a proposed layout and furnishings, concentrating on the soft furnishings in particular, floor and wall coverings, including murals.

Work started on the Garden Flat on 29th January and finished on the 29th March. The first family started using the flat on Sat 30th March.

The majority of the refurbishment was funded by CRASH which is the construction industry charity, helping homelessness charities and hospices with life-changing building projects.

CRASH does this by sourcing pro-bono professional expertise, building materials and awarding cash grants, donated by the construction and property industry. Peter Maguire from BAM construction was one of these companies who generously gave the labour needed to do the construction work free of charge.

Money was also donated from the Doris Field Trust, Albert Hunt Charitable Trust, Bernard Sunley Charitable Trust and Frederick & Phyllis Cann Trust.

Clare Periton Chief Executive from Helen & Douglas House said ‘We are so delighted with our new family flat and most importantly so are our families. It is a wonderful sanctuary they can retreat to, to get a break from caring for their terminally ill children. This transformation is a result of truly fantastic collaboration across our staff, our supporters and our volunteers. I would like to thank CRASH and BAM for funding and managing this project and the local trusts who have donated money. I would also particularly like to thank our Estates team whose expertise ensured the project was completed on time and the many members of staff across the charity who have contributed their time, expertise and energy to this project.’

‘I would like to thank the many volunteers who helped with jobs like making all the flat pack furniture and the curtains. Also to Kim O’Grady and the other families who provided input that guided how and what we needed to do to make the flat such a special place.’

Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen said ‘As a designer, I have always very emphatically believed that health and care are intrinsically tied to our surroundings – not only the spaces that we occupy, but also the people who share those spaces with us.

‘When Helen & Douglas House approached me with plans to redesign their family apartments I was thrilled to have the opportunity to make a real difference to the experience of the children being cared for, and their families. The new family suites are calming and relaxing places for families to create lasting memories and focus on spending time together.’

Kim O’Grady whose 5 year old son is cared for by Helen & Douglas House gave advice to the design team to ensure it met family’s needs. She said ‘It’s difficult to put into words the support that Helen & Douglas House has given us over the last 5 years.

‘When we first started bringing Toby to the hospice in 2014 we could never even contemplate him being out of our sight for a minute, but with the love and care of the team we gradually allowed them to care for him and give ourselves permission to rest.

‘The family accommodation was a vital part of this journey. It allowed us to be able to stay in the same building, to be on hand if we were needed but have some physical separation to try to sleep and recover without being on high alert 24/7. However I always felt it could be more than a functional place to rest your head.

‘When you have a child with special needs you don’t get to go on holiday like many families do and choose where you want to stay. Staying in the family accommodation at Helen & Douglas House was our holiday. The flats were very functional but had the potential to be so much more. I was really passionate about the fact that the flat could be a peaceful and private place for families facing unimaginable traumas but with a little bit of luxury that made them feel special.’

BAM’s Peter Maguire, who officially retired in 2018 and who spent many years working on BAM’s extensive range of buildings in the city, including the new wing for the Ashmolean, came out of retirement and spent eight weeks working in a voluntary capacity on the Helen House renovation.

Peter said: ‘It was very hard work! We had to do some demolition and change the initial designs before I called in a lifetime of favours from sub-contractors I’ve worked with over 25 years. They were very generous. It took me back to when I started out as a carpenter! But it’s a wonderful thing to do and I had a lot of fun, and the lot of us have saved the hospice a huge amount of money – we believe over £100,000 – and have left them with our labour of love. It’s a desperately emotional cause and I know it means a lot to the families who visit the hospice, so I could not be happier to have been involved.’

Francesca Roberts, Chief Executive at CRASH said: ‘CRASH, as the construction industry charity, works with hospices across the UK and we were delighted to help Helen & Douglas House with their vital building project. It is critical that parents have a room to stay in so they can be close to their children whilst they receive specialist care.’