Haven House in Woodford Green challenges perceptions as it prepares to celebrate 10 years

Staff with Sinem Shacolas and Nico and Rosemarie Rigobert and Miles

Sinem Shacolas and Nico with Rosemarie Rigobert and Miles

First published in Epping Forest by

AS Haven House Children's Hospice prepares to celebrate ten years of serving the community, The Guardian was invited to take a look around.

HOSPICES are usually associated with the end of life and considered places bereft of hope, not laughter as you will find at Haven House.

With the added emotion of children being involved, these connotations somehow become even more powerful, with the knowledge innocence has been tainted by disease, disorder or a cruel twist of fate.

This is brought into sharp focus by a visit to the Butterfly Suite, a room at Haven House with a cooled bed where families can spend final moments with children who have passed away.

But the hospice, established in High Road, Woodford Green, in 2003, is considered by patients and their families as a place of happiness, support and optimism. It provides care for around 130 children with conditions ranging from terminal cancer to cerebral palsy.

And as the experience of Sinem Shacolas shows, staff at Haven House can help when all seems lost.

The 35-year-old, of Markhouse Road, Walthamstow, was pregnant with twins went she went into labour at just 28 weeks.

One of the babies, Duo, died after four weeks from a collapsed lung. His twin brother, Nico, sufffered brain damage during birth and diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

"I was on the verge of having a nervous breakdown," Mrs Shacolas said

"I was grieving with the loss of one son, while trying to cope with having an ill child.

"The hospice has saved my life, it is a real gem.

"The respite care I get means I can do the simple things people take for granted like having a bath or posting a letter."

Rosemarie Rigobert, 46, of Bude Close, Walthamstow, has also found solace in sometimes unbearable circumstances.

Her son, Miles, 4, has Down's syndrome and is severely short-sighted.

She said: "My home became a hospital when I first took him home.

"For months and months I barely slept because he suffered with sleep apnoea, and I had depression.

"The first night I spent in the hospice I woke in the morning and thought I had been asleep for only an hour.

"The hospice is just like a home from home - it has changed my life."

And contrary to popular perceptions, Chief Executive Mike Palfreman is also keen to stress that the hospice is a happy place and not one of sadness.

"It very much remains a home here and people always get a sense of happiness when they visit."

Despite the important role the hospice plays in the community, only a third of its £2million running costs are met by the government.

And a number of vital fundraising events are being planned as part of its anniversary celebrations next year.

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