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Good evening. Thank you all for being here tonight. My name is Ian Blair and I have the very real privilege to be Chair of the Board of Trustees of Helen & Douglas House.

Welcome to Christ Church Cathedral, a beautiful building and a sacred space, in which I now think I spent much less time than I should have done, when I was an undergraduate here in this college long ago.

Thank you to the Acting Sub-Dean Jonathan Chaffey and the Acting Dean, Sarah Foot, for allowing us the use of the Cathedral tonight and to do so without cost. Thank you also to the staff of the Cathedral and indeed to the staff of Helen and Douglas House for enabling all this to happen.

This is an evening of memory and of celebration and of lots and lots of thanks.

First, memory: we remember those children who have used our services during short lives and salute the families who endured such a terrible tragedy with love and grace.

This month marks the 40th anniversary of Helen & Douglas House. This is a significant milestone because not only does it represent four decades of providing world class palliative care to children here in Oxford, but it also signifies forty years since the children’s hospice movement began. Forty years ago, children’s hospices did not exist; children were treated in hospitals but then discharged with minimal support and their parents were expected to maintain their health at home. Today there are 54 children’s hospices in the UK. And there are countless children’s hospices worldwide, all modelled on the blueprint set by Helen House.

That is not an Oxfam or an AstraZeneca but it is still a noble achievement of which Oxford can be proud.

We are delighted to be joined tonight by many of the families who use our services, as well as supporters, volunteers, trustees, staff and particularly our founders and early staff members. I particularly want to emphasise the role of our more than 400 volunteers, working not only in the House itself but also in our far-flung range of shops from Cirencester in the west to Wokingham in the east, from Stow in the Wold in the north to Chalfont St Peter in the south…without them, Helen & Douglas House could not exist.

It has been a long journey over those 40 years, with some bumps in the road. Although we have excellent relationships with the publicly funded NHS, more than 80% of our funding has to be raised through personal donation.

My early years as Chair were much overshadowed by the closure of Douglas House in 2018 because we simply could not afford to keep it open.

I am delighted to tell you tonight that earlier this year Douglas House was repurposed as the Oxfordshire Children’s Rehabilitation Unit run by the NHS. This important service helps children and young people and their families to manage their chronic pain and long COVID symptoms so they can return to most, or even all, activities of daily living. I want to make a special mention here of Valerie Bell, Douglas’ mother, who not only dealt with the closure of Douglas House with equanimity but is also delighted with its new transformation. Unfortunately, she cannot be here tonight.

Despite all those occasional difficult times, – but please do not stop giving – HDH is now financially stable. During the pandemic, through which we continued to provide care, we altered our service delivery by increasing the proportion of it provided in patients’ homes, a practice we have continued, although still keeping Helen House open for end of life care and supportive stays. We cooperate with other hospices and are proud to have Dr Emily Harrop, our paediatric palliative consultant, a rarity in the UK, and her team work so closely with them and with the NHS across our region. On the quiet, I think we are about recruit a second consultant in the same field, which would be marvellous!

I can’t talk about the 40th Anniversary without making a special mention of some incredibly important people: our founders Sister Frances Dominica who sadly could not be with us tonight and Dr Richard and Jacqueline Worswick, parents to Helen, after whom the House is named who are here with us tonight. It was the meeting of these amazing people and their personal experiences that led to the official opening of Helen House on 30th November 1982.

Thank you for being with us this evening and thank you to your families and all the other founding members who are also here. There are too many of you to mention but, on behalf of families across the Thames Valley and beyond in the UK and indeed worldwide, thank you for what you did forty years ago to make all of this possible.

I also want to acknowledge the forty-year generosity of the Sisters of the Poor, in whose grounds Helen and Douglas House stand and some of whose members are with us tonight. I should also mention that it will be Sister Frances’s 80th birthday in a couple of weeks’ time and Frances we wish you well on that happy occasion.

Today, Helen & Douglas House supports around 170 families each year from Oxfordshire and the surrounding counties.

Led by the energetic and people-focussed Chief Executive, Clare Periton, whom I thank so much for all that she has done for HDH, our teams work tirelessly to provide expert palliative care and holistic support for each and every family that needs us.

But it is only thanks to people like you all here tonight that this is possible. Every donation you make, every hour you volunteer, every event you take part in, lottery ticket you buy, or cake you sell, goes toward the cost of our services. Hopefully you have already bought some of our Christmas cards or taken part in the raffle this evening. There are opportunities to support us further tonight if you feel inspired to do so.

On your chairs are pledge cards, envelopes and pens. Please do take a moment to fill it in if you can, or you can donate online via the QR code, and pop it in the envelope and in the box on your way out of the cathedral.

You can also give via the electronic boxes on the way out. I know that this is a difficult time financially but any amount you can give will truly help.

And now it is time to get on with the main event. I am most grateful to the two distinguished authors and the acclaimed actor who are delivering readings tonight. We will also have the privilege of hearing from one of the fathers who has used our services about the difference this has made to him and his family. Thank you, Anthony, thank you, Jessica, thank you, Jeremy and thank you, Paul.

Alongside all of this, we are going to be entertained by some splendid singing from the Frideswide Voices, from Out of the Blue and from HDH’s own singers and have the opportunity to join in ourselves too!

So please, sit back and enjoy this evening’s event. Once again, thank you for being here and for the support you show to Helen & Douglas House.

Discover more of our history

A lot has happened in 40 years! From Royal visits, to refurbs, a BBC appearance and lots of fun events we’ve enjoyed so many memorable moments with children and families.