Multi-million pound plans are underway for Francis House children's hospice

Francis House children's hospice in Didsbury has been a homely, caring environment for poorly young people since 1991. Now, multi-million pound plans are underway to extend its services WORDS BY EMMA MAYOH MAIN PHOTOGRAPHY BY KIRSTY THOMPSON

I t is a situation that people hope they will never find themselves in. But for those families who do have children with short life expectancy, they can take comfort that a place like Francis House children’s hospice exists.

This incredible facility in Didsbury not only provides respite and medical services, it also gives unswerving care and support for the sick children and young people as well as their families.

Patients travel from across the north west to be seen at Francis House which offers an invaluable support network to those who need it, and for as long as they need it. They help over 230 sick children per year and around 1,200 people are receiving some kind of care from Francis House at any one time.

The hospice, which also has Francis Lodge - a temporary four bedroom unit to meet the growing needs of teenagers and young adults - was built in 1991. It was only the fifth children’s hospice to be built in the world.

The backbone and driving force behind the hospice’s success came from Sister Aloysius, a determined nun who, sadly, recently passed away. She was the woman who established Francis House in 1990. She rallied around like-minded individuals so that help could be provided. It is now the job of chief executive David Ireland to continue her good work.

He said: ‘Most hospices take six to eight years to get from inception to completion. Sister Aloysius was amazing. There was that first meeting in January and by November the next year we had Princess Diana here opening Francis House.

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‘Sister Aloysius had such compassion for the children and their families. When the first building was being done, she needed more servicesthan a million pounds to do it. She started with �20,000. This achievement alone shows what an incredible person she was.’

Sister Aloysius passed the baton on to chief executive David Ireland who, along with dedicated specialist staff and volunteers, has made it his mission to maintain the standards set by Sister Aloysius.

He will lead the hospice through its next chapter. Work is currently underway to build a new �3.5 million two storey, seven bedroom extension and administration block. The work is expected to be completed by the middle of next year and a campaign has been launched to raise funds.

There are already many state-of-the-art facilities and medical equipment – purposely hidden away to make residents feel more at home than at a hospital. There is a swimming pool that can be used by the young people and their families as well as a snoezelen multi-sensory room. Music therapy sessions are also held with the young people – and the dozens of photographs of smiling faces on the wall in this room prove how effective this is.

But the new building will double the hospice in size, making it possible to increase the amount of day and night respite care that can be offered to each child and family.

David said: ‘In recent years, medical advances and improved methods of care have meant that the number of children living beyond 16 years of age has increased. This is, of course, fantastic news. But it has also meant that our ability to provide respite has been reduced.

‘The new building will allow us to give the young people and families we currently help the number of nights respite they need and deserve.’The new building is of particular interest to David as he was the architect when the original hospice was built in 1991. It was being involved with the project that made him want to be a part of Francis House’s future.

But his main focus, along with everyone who works and volunteers at the hospice, is the care, support and happiness of the people who use it. Like many of those happy photographs you can see in the building, Francis House is a happy place. Of course, there is heartache and sadness here but there is an overwhelmingly positive atmosphere. This is down to the people who work and help here.

David said: ‘We want people’s time here to be as happy and peaceful as possible. The young people really look forward to visiting us which makes it very special for us. People think that hospices are sad places but that is not the case here.

‘Francis House also exists because of the generosity of the many, many people who donate. It costs �9,000 a day to run Francis House and we could not do it without their help. When the new building is up and running it will cost around �4.6 million a year to run. We need people to continue to support us. This is the next piece in the jigsaw and we are determined to make it happen.’

To make a donation contact Francis House, 390 Parrswood Road, Didsbury, M20 5NA, 0161 434 4118, You can donate via the website

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