FOURTEEN years ago a fundraising drive started to build a hospice for young adults with life-shortening conditions.

Four years later, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh officially opened Douglas House in Magdalen Road, East Oxford on February 20, 2004, after £4m was collected.

Hospice founder Sister Frances, who opened Helen House in 1982, recognised there was very little specialist provision for young people and because of improvements in medical care, children with severe conditions were surviving into early adulthood.

The specialist hospice was named after Douglas Bell, a blind young man, who visited Helen House more than 80 times until his death, aged 24, in 1993.

In the past decade the hospice has helped hundreds of young adults aged between 16 and 35-years-old.


Music therapist Pete McPhail PROFESSIONAL musician Pete McPhail has impressive credentials including playing saxophone on tracks for popular band Elbow.

But the music therapist dedicates two days a week as a staff member at Helen and Douglas House.

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Mr McPhail, above, said: “Music therapy involves using music as a means of communication between people.

“It can be used in pain relief and in some cases it makes a big difference.

“It is something that can do a lot to help when somebody is feeling closed down in some way. Music can become a language even for people who find words very difficult. It enables them to come out of themselves.”

He added: “I tend to work individually. I find out what kind of music inspires them.”


Rachel Griffith, team leader, Douglas House Rachel knows how important Helen and Douglas House is as her two daughters were supported by the hospice.

The mum-of-four, from Waddesdon, Buckinghamshire, visited the hospice for respite care over three years after her daughters Misha and Natalie were diagnosed with Late Infantile Batten Disease.

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  • CARE: Rachel Griffith, right, with patient Hannah Abigail

Misha died aged seven in 2002, and Natalie in 2003, when she was nearly six.

Mrs Griffith went on to work at the hospice as a nurse nearly 10 years ago and now heads up a team of 12 carers and nurses.

She said: “It is quite an interesting place to work – it is quite challenging.

“I’m always in admiration of the parents and carers and young adults.

“I am delighted still to be here. I can see we have come such a long way having been involved in the set-up of teams.

“Obviously I experienced the benefits of having experienced staff having been here as a family.”



Julie Levinge, house manager at Douglas House Julie, pictured below right, says she was inspired by a former guest of Douglas House.

Ms Levinge, who runs the day-to-day management of Douglas House, said she was told about the hospice by a former student of hers when she worked at the National Star College in Cheltenham.

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Ms Levinge said: “She told me to get myself to Oxford and apply for a job there.

“Several years later some time after she had passed away I thought it was the right time. She completely changed my life and I will be forever grateful to her.”

Ms Levinge added: “This place, Douglas House, really gets how it is to be a young adult emerging from childhood.

“They put the young people absolutely at the centre of their thinking and that is what I love about the place.

“At the beginning nobody really knew it would work.

“Ten years on we are absolutely sure.”

Family support and bereavement

Shahina Haque, below, head of Helen & Douglas House’s Family Support and Bereavement Team 

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The head of Helen and Douglas House’s Family Support and Bereavement Team said: “We also support the young adults who would like to talk about some of the issues they are facing.”

Ms Haque came to Helen and Douglas House from an adult hospice.

She said: “It is genuinely a privilege to work here and have people’s personal thoughts shared with you.”

She added: “I know a lot of bereaved parents who are also fundraising.

“I hope we are able to continue for another 10 years.”


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  • CARING TOUCH:  Deputy directors of clinical services Dr Jo Elverson, left, and Liz Leigh oversee some paperwork at Douglas House

Dr Jo Elverson, deputy director of clinical services – medical

DEPUTY director of clinical services Dr Jo Elverson praised the team she works with at Douglas House.

The consultant in palliative care has been working at Helen and Douglas House for more than three years.

She said: “The anniversary is a great thing to celebrate and we are looking forward to what the future will bring.

“It is an amazing team and really multi-talented.”

Liz Leigh, deputy director of clinical services

DEPUTY director of clinical services at Helen & Douglas House, Liz Leigh, said Douglas House was one of a kind when it began 10 years ago.

Ms Leigh, who has worked at the hospice for three years after previously working at the children’s hospital in Oxford as an oncology (cancer) nurse, oversees both hospices and their services.

She is now responsible for policies and managing staff.

Ms Leigh said: “For the young adults we are just unique.

“It is a unique place and it is somewhere that they can come and be amongst people with similar challenges to their lives, but we enable them to do more normal things.

“They will go off to the pub. We are well-placed here for social outings in the Cowley Road.

“Also they come and they make friends here.”

She added: “There was absolutely nothing for anybody over 18 before.”


Jo Micaleff, complementary therapist Jo helps guests relieve stress, anxiety and pain.

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Ms Micaleff, pictured, who started working at Helen and Douglas House 10 years ago after working as a nurse at the Radcliffe Infirmary, offers aromatherapy and massage.

She said: “I cannot believe it has got to 10 years. It has gone from strength to strength really.”



1982: Helen House, the world’s first children’s hospice, opens

2000: Campaign launched to raise £4m to build Douglas House

2002: Sir Trevor McDonald and Valerie Bell lay the foundation stone, pictured above

2004: The Queen officially opens the new hospice

Spring 2010: The annexe is added to Douglas House, the planned second phase of the building.

A new dining area for staff and volunteers is added and the Family Support and Bereavement Team have an office and counselling room allocated.

The laundry is moved to the ground floor and a large store for additional beds and equipment added

November 2013: Helen House closes for £1.5m facelift, with the family rooms in Douglas House used as children’s bedrooms during the work

February 20, 2014: Douglas House celebrates 10th anniversary