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£1m bereavement support centre opens at children’s hospital

A new £1 million support centre has been opened at Birmingham Children’s Hospital to help with palliative and bereavement care.

Magnolia House has been funded entirely by charitable donations and will improve the experiences of hundreds of families who receive life-changing or difficult news in the future.

Every year, approximately 120 life-changing conversations take place at the hospital between health professionals and the loved ones of young people.

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Currently this news is delivered in offices, empty cubicles or even playrooms, with parents often moved back out onto the ward before they have properly had the time to digest what they are being told.

Magnolia House breaks this mould, offering a non-clinical, safe, home-from-from sanctuary that gives families a space where they can spend as long as they need together, before they feel ready to face the world again.

Fundraising was spearheaded by the hospital’s near-neighbour Wesleyan. The Birmingham-based financial mutual successfully raised £750,000 of the required £1 million total, thanks to more than 200 fundraising activities ranging from cake bakes to the publishing of a children’s book, ‘The Unstoppable Maggie McGee’. The final £250,000 was raised through public donations.

To make Magnolia House a reality, a network of bereaved families has worked together with the hospital’s dedicated bereavement specialists, including Gayle Routledge, 45, from Stafford and Rachel Ollerenshaw, 46, from Warwick.

Gayle’s son Lewis passed away at two-years-old with Stage 4 Neuroblastoma, a rare form of cancer, and Rachel’s eight-year-old daughter Molly passed away with a Wilms tumour, a type of kidney cancer.

Every element has been designed hand-in hand with families; from the pastel-coloured interior and the comfortable furniture, to the floor-to-ceiling windows that allow for lots of natural light.

As Nicki Fitzmaurice, Palliative Care Lead at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, explains: “The families we care for have wanted a space like Magnolia House for such a long time and thanks to hundreds of charitable donations we are delighted to now be able to offer an environment that gives parents a chance to process life-changing news, ensuring they are able to focus on being emotionally available to their child.

“Feedback from families was clear, it needed to be unlike any other area in the hospital, not smell or sound like a busy ward and have lots of natural light, so they didn’t feel like they were enclosed. We’re proud to have created a setting that honours them.”

Located in a central part of the hospital’s site and named because of the trees found in its surrounding garden, Magnolia House boasts two private counselling rooms; a calming lounge area; a kitchen and dining area; a siblings play area and a peaceful, private garden where families can sit and reflect.

It also has a private, large family room complete with its own bathroom, kitchen and garden.

Speaking of how Magnolia House would have benefited her family, Gayle said: “I still remember every detail of our location when we were told the news and for us that was a cramped and impersonal room with hardly enough space for us all to sit down.

“It would have made such a difference to our family to have a home-from-home space away from the ward where we could feel safe and be separated from the hospital.”

Rachel added: “We had tough conversations in public areas and in small consulting rooms that opened on to waiting areas full of other children and their families. We felt trapped by the environment, like we couldn’t breathe, needing to be outside, away from everyone else.

“Magnolia House is a beautiful, safe space built with thought and compassion that provides a unique environment for families facing very challenging situations.”

Liz McKenzie, Wesleyan’s chief operating officer and chair of its Charity Advisory Committee, said:

“We have supported Birmingham Children’s Hospital for the past four years, and our legacy of creating Magnolia House is something we are very proud of. We hope it will help families when they need it most.

“It has been our largest fundraising challenge ever, driven by our staff’s energy and by sales of our children’s book, ‘The Unstoppable Maggie McGee’. The way our staff, customers and suppliers have thrown their energy, time and creativity behind this project and embraced the life-changing work the hospital does for children and their families, has been extraordinary. We can’t thank them enough.”

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