Sunshine pours in through open windows, the sound of youngsters laughing rings out across the garden and even a playful dog bounds around the rooms...
Stepping inside South Yorkshire’s only children’s hospice isn’t supposed to be a saddening experience.
Instead, Bluebell Wood, in North Anston near Sheffield, is intended as a colourful, restful place offering respite and somewhere for poorly children to end their short lives away from the more clinical environment of a hospital.
Now approaching its fifth anniversary, the charity is marking Children’s Hospice Week until Friday, raising awareness of the importance of its work - while making some ambitious plans for the future.
Tucked away at the end of a private road and set in a six-and-a-half acre site, the hospice provides eight comfortable bedrooms for terminally-ill children from across the region, as well as two ‘end of life’ rooms where young patients can die with dignity.
The main room is filled with fun games and activities for residents, while corridors lead off to a music room, ball pool, cinema and kitchen, where tasty meals are prepared every day.
Friendly hospice dog George, a black spaniel, wanders around as he pleases, while children and their families can pet cute guinea pigs and play outside in the grounds.
One of Bluebell Wood’s regular visitors is seven-year-old Leionna Seedhouse, who suffers from rare Batten Disease and is brought in for short breaks by her mum Julie.
Leionna, from Grassmoor in Chesterfield, was diagnosed at the age of three with the fatal degenerative condition, which affects the nervous system and slowly takes away faculties such as speech, sight and movement.
Julie said she was told about Bluebell Wood soon after the diagnosis by Leionna’s doctor - and that she found the hospice was ‘just like a family home’ on her first visit.
“I praise this place to bits, it’s wonderful,” said the mum, a full-time carer to her disabled daughter and sons Logan, nine, and Oscar, four.
“When I walked in I liked it, that was my gut feeling. The staff are brilliant. I’ve got used to relaxing here - to forget the outside world and all its problems is so nice. Siblings can stay here too so I don’t need to worry about Logan and Oscar.”
Julie said Leionna has been to the hospice three times so far this year, and that she recently left her daughter to be cared for alone by staff for the first time.
“It was hard but it was nice at the same time, I know she’ll be cared for 110 per cent,” she added.
Leionna developed normally following birth, but showed the first signs of Batten disease just before her third birthday, when she collapsed, seemingly with an epileptic fit.
Further fits followed, and tests at Sheffield Children’s Hospital confirmed the condition.
“When they told me there wasn’t an operation for it I was devastated. I’ve never really accepted it, I just brush it under the carpet and live day to day,” said Julie.
“It’s heartbreaking to watch her go through it, but she’s still got her own strong personality.”
She added: “Places like Bluebell Wood are a godsend. I’m always encouraging people to raise money because they need it so much.”
Julie Devine, who has just joined the hospice as its first director of care, agreed, saying charities are in a ‘difficult financial climate’.
“Everyone is fighting for precious donations, but once you get involved you’re almost a lifelong fundraiser, they become part of the Bluebell Wood family,” she said.
This Friday, staff and volunteers are encouraging as many people as possible to dress up as superheroes to raise money for Children’s Hospice Week, and an open day is happening in September for Bluebell Wood’s fifth birthday.
“I’m enjoying the job,” Julie continued.
“There’s a new challenge each day, but the children and families make it all worthwhile.”
Julie said she was ‘looking forward to the future’. Plans are being made to boost care services in the community, as well as improving services for older teenagers.
“We expect to care for children and young people up to the age of 21, but what we need regionally is a young adult facility,” she said.
“We have a lot of space still. I would love a nice therapy pool and an educational facility, that would be a really wonderful resource. We’re still quite new, we’ve got a way to go yet.
“I really want to make it the best children’s hospice in the country as our children and families deserve nothing less.”
- Bluebell Wood opened in 2008, and was built on old colliery land in North Anston. Previously, volunteers had raised funds themselves and offered services in peoples’ homes.
- There are only 43 children’s hospices in the country, so the area Bluebell Wood looks after covers all of South Yorkshire, North Derbyshire, North Nottinghamshire and parts of North Lincolnshire.
- The hospice needs £3million each year to offer its services and relies on donations. A bed costs around £750 each day to offer.
- As well as residential stays, help with hospital visits is also on offer along with family support groups.
- The hospice runs fundraising activities throughout the year - people can collect money through activities such as sponsored runs and there are a host of ‘adventure challenges’ to try including skydives and treks up Mount Everest and across the Sahara Desert. Bluebell Wood also runs its own lottery.
- Visit www.bluebellwood.org or www.childrenshospiceweek.org.uk for more information.