People who come to Francis House are often struck by the homely and relaxed atmosphere, where chats on the comfortable sofas in the lounge or around the large circular dining table are common place.
For members of the care team, being able to spend quality time with the children and young people who are reaching the end of their lives, or talking to the parents and families is a vital part of the support provided.
Clinical Lead at the Parrswood Road children’s hospice Natalie Hands is to retire after a twenty five year career nursing sick children.
She said: “My whole experience here has been one of discovery. There are many tasks and nursing procedures to be carried out, but within a shift there will be opportunities where you’ll just sit and read a story to a child or play a game.”
Natalie from Stockport, joined Francis House when there were only four other children’s hospices in the UK in 1991.
“It was just amazing, a lovely homely setting with carpets and matching curtains and all about the care of the whole family – ‘wow’ was probably a word we said a lot.”
Seven children’s bedrooms and seven double family bedrooms give the parents a well-earned rest and working alongside families has been a real highlight for Natalie.
Medical interventions now available, including gastrostomies and tracheostomies, that help with swallowing and breathing problems, means that there are less chest infections that previously resulted in an earlier death.
Natalie has developed an interest in bereavement support, in particular support for the siblings. The ‘Shining Stars’ bereaved siblings support group was set up by Natalie and a group of colleagues in 2000.
She said: “Working with bereaved brothers and sisters and helping them to understand grief at a level appropriate for their age and giving them the tools to help deal with their bereavement is so important for their future lives.”
In 1991 Natalie met HRH Diana Princess of Wales when she opened Francis House.
Then to mark their 25th anniversary last year, the charity celebrated the official opening of Francis Lodge by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – a new wing of the hospice for teenagers and young adults.
“It’s been lovely to be here to see Francis Lodge develop. I’ve worked with remarkable colleagues and met extraordinary families, there will always be part of Francis House in my heart.”
Chief executive of Francis House Revd David Ireland paid tribute to her work. He said: “After 25 years with us at Francis House we are sad to say goodbye to Natalie. We thank her for passion and dedication, she will be missed by colleagues and the children and families alike.”
Francis House is seeking new members to join the care team. Relevant qualifications are required, to find out more visit the Staff page at www.francishouse.org.uk