IT opened nearly 32 years ago and has helped support hundreds of children and families.

But now the world’s first children’s hospice, Helen House in Leopold Street, East Oxford, is getting a £1.5m makeover to bring it up to scratch.

The hospice has been closed since November, with children and their families being cared for on the first floor of neighbouring Douglas House, which opened in 2004 for those aged 16 to 35.

The refurbishment includes a larger reception area and corridor, a revamped kitchen and plumbed-in oxygen in all children’s rooms.

It will also include an interactive ‘magic carpet’ with images such as leaves projected onto it which visitors can then ‘kick’ away.

There will also be a cinema area and a sensory room with an array of coloured lights designed to stimulate the senses.

A larger school room will also allow a teacher to attend three days a week.

Builders gutted the building for the project, which the charity hopes will open to families by July.

Liz Leigh, deputy director of clinical services, said: “It was really exciting to see the changes, you can’t visualise what it’s going to look like on a piece of paper. It is amazing really.

“I think the new sensory room will be really good and the oxygen in the bedrooms will reduce the amount of equipment in the bedrooms.

“The bedrooms are not huge, they are smaller than the rooms in Douglas House, so we thought it would provide more space.”


Project manager Steve Massey

Of a new central play area, she said: “I think that’s going to really consolidate play and activities for the children.

“Before there were different sections. I think it will make it safer as well because we will have staff based in one area rather than spread out through the building.”

She said: “I think the families all appreciate we are trying to continue working and providing care for their children even when we haven’t got a building to do it in.”

Children and young people and their families are offered 28 days a year at the hospice, which opened in 1982, and it also provides overnight care at the end of their lives.


THE refurbished Helen House will help support young people like 11-year-old Ollie Illingworth and his family.
Ollie has a life-shortening condition called MPS, a metabolism disorder which delays development and causes significant neurological symptoms.
His twin brother Ben had the same condition and died in his sleep in 2012 just before his 10th birthday.


Mike and Fiona Illingworth with Ben, left, and Ollie, right

Ollie and his parents Fiona and Mike have been going to the hospice from their Witney home for specialist palliative care and respite for seven years.
Mr Illingworth said: “Ben loved his stays at Helen House.
“It gave both boys a safe and happy environment to play, have fun and try new things away from mum and dad.”


THERE is still £750,000 left to raise to fund the refurbishment project.
A grant of £436,000 from NHS England, restricted to this financial year, is part-funding the scheme and supporters of Helen & Douglas charity have already donated £250,000.


The Rt Rev Patrick Rodgers blesses the entrance of Helen House as it opens in 1982

Lindsey Rennard, director of income generation for Helen & Douglas House, said: “This is an opportunity to support something in their community that will benefit children for many years to come.
“We have been really grateful for the support so far but we still need more.”
Spare timber from the building site has been recycled and copper piping has been sold, raising £2,000 for the charity.
Ms Rennard said they are also hoping to raise the money through grants and are applying to trusts.


Students from Cheney School in Oxford look at the plans for the new building with hospice founder Sister Francis Dominica, right, in 1980

She said: “I am pleased with our progress to date.
“Our supporters are so generous. The target was for £1m and we are still energetically fundraising.”
Alison Hooker, Witney community fundraiser for Helen & Douglas House, said: “With 31 years of constant wear and tear Helen House was looking very tired.
“Building hospices is one thing, maintaining them and meeting the running costs year after year is another.


Catherine, sister of Helen Worswick, who inspired the founding of the hospice, lays the foundation stone for Helen House in 1982

“Our charity only receives 15 per cent of annual running costs from the NHS and other statutory bodies. The rest is raised through voluntary donations.
“Without our fabulous supporters and volunteers across the region, Helen & Douglas House simply could not function.”
Supporters giving a gift of £250 or more will be invited to a special reception at the refurbished Helen House.


  • It costs £5m per year to run the two hospices.
  • The hospices care for more than 300 young people from Oxfordshire and other counties including Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Gloucestershire.
  • Helen House opened in 1982 and supports children up to the age of 18.
  • Douglas House opened in 2004 and helps young adults aged 16 to 35.
  • The two hospices care for about 360 families each year, and supports about 60 bereaved families each year.
  • To make a donation or to find out more visit or contact the fundraising team by emailing or call 01865 799150.