Builiding Progressing at Newcastle £3 Million Daisy Respite Centre

BUILDING work is progressing well at the Northern Ireland Cancer Fund for Children’s new £3 million state-of-the-art therapeutic respite centre.

The demand for respite accommodation in Northern Ireland is significant. Northern Ireland Cancer Fund for Children (NICFC) has been providing this vital service to families at its Shimna Valley complex in Newcastle, Co. Down, for 16 years but the facility was not purpose-built for children with cancer and could not meet demand.

[caption id="attachment_37944" align="alignleft" width="390"]NICFC Chief Executive Gillian Creevy with SouthDown MLA Jim Wells and Marie Turner,  who suffered from leukemia look over teh demolition of the old respite centre in Newcastle. NICFC Chief Executive Gillian Creevy with South Down MLA Jim Wells and Marie Turner, who suffered from leukemia look over the demolition of the old respite centre in Newcastle.[/caption]

NICFC decided to replace it with Daisy Lodge which will give up to 500 families per year who are caring for a child with cancer the chance to enjoy a relaxing break together.

Each week in Northern Ireland three children, teenagers or young adults are diagnosed with cancer. Cancer steals childhood but the NICFC strives to rebuild it. The aim of the new Daisy Lodge centre, which is located on the former Shimna Valley site in Newcastle, is to offer families the chance to spend time together in a nurturing, restorative environment completely free of charge.

Families facing a cancer journey which may last for many years may visit Daisy Lodge at any stage in their child’s treatment.  NICFC Chief Executive Gillian Creevy said the centre will set a global standard by offering the highest levels of nurturing support.

She added: “We meet families every day who have spent many months on the hospital ward with their sick child or who have travelled relentlessly to and from their treatment centre week in week out for several years.  We know they are exhausted and we know just how much a short break away from the pressures of everyday life can mean to them.

[caption id="attachment_37943" align="alignright" width="390"]An artist's view of the new Daisy centre in Newcastle that will provide respite for families who have a child suffering from cancer. An artist’s view of the new Daisy centre in Newcastle that will provide respite for families who have a child suffering from cancer.[/caption]

“At Daisy Lodge we plan to continue to offer the highest level of nurturing support to re-energise, reassure and restore parents and to simply give families the chance they need to rebuild their lives and to find the resilience they need to cope with their continuing journey ahead.”

Maria Turner (25) was diagnosed with leukaemia at the age of eight. The Saintfield girl, who is now in remission, was one of the first young people to experience this level of support. Speaking at the launch of the Heron Brothers-led building project, she recalled her time there and spoke of her excitement that the centre is now being replaced by Daisy Lodge.

Maria said: “Staying at Shimna was like an escape – a breath of fresh air away from all the hospital visits. For a while you forgot you were sick. Down there I was treated just like everyone else and got to meet other young people who were experiencing the same thing I was. I made some fantastic friends and real connections that will stay with me for life. The fact that this new centre will be able to offer this experience to others makes me so happy.”

Aundrea Bannatyne, from Dundonald said Shimna Valley was a haven for her family after her son James was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a malignant brain tumour, when he was just two years-old.

[caption id="attachment_37945" align="alignleft" width="390"]The old building is demolished on the site and worked begins on the new build. The old building is demolished on the site and worked begins on the new build.[/caption]

Five years on, James is doing well but his mother has never forgotten the role NICFC and Shimna Valley played in her family’s lives at such a difficult time.

“From the minute we walked through the doors,” Aundrea said:  “A huge weight was lifted off our shoulders and a sense of calm descended upon us. The staff looked after us from morning until night which meant we didn’t have to worry about things that were a chore when caring for a seriously ill child. The break allowed us to spend quality time together as a family and that is priceless.”

Aundrea and James recently met the world’s number one golfer, Rory McIlroy, in Abu Dhabi. NICFC is the first charity to benefit from the Rory Foundation, with proceeds from an auction of his golf bag going towards Daisy Lodge.

“I am delighted that money raised through the Rory Foundation will help develop the new Daisy Lodge centre so other families can experience the comfort and respite we did,” she added.

One brave little girl who has felt the benefit of Shimna Valley is Ruth Devlin. The Belfast girl was only six years-old when doctors found a tumour in her leg. Things went from bad to worse when she was diagnosed with leukaemia and another tumour was found in her other leg.

[caption id="attachment_37946" align="alignright" width="390"]Progress despite the bad weather - the steel structure is erected. Progress despite the bad weather – the steel structure is erected.[/caption]

Ruth’s father, Bobby Devlin, revealed the diagnosis was like a “bolt out of the blue” but said Shimna provided a lifeline for the family.

He said: “We were very wary of going outside and of people coming into the house due to the risk of further infection. Ruth also became immobile and her speech was affected which added to the sense of isolation she felt. In a way it was like whole chunks of her childhood were lost. It was an extremely difficult and lonely time for our family.”

“However, stays at the charity’s Shimna Valley respite Centre gave Ruth the opportunity to mix with other children. It also lifted our spirits and rejuvenated us enough to carry on with the rest of the difficult journey that was in front of us. The fact the new Daisy Lodge centre will be able to offer this service to even more families is wonderful.”

The 16,000 square  feet Daisy Lodge facility boasts a stunning line-up of features making it a comfortable haven for families when they are at their most vulnerable.

When completed, it will feature six family suites and a well-being suite incorporating a range of therapy rooms, a gym and relaxation area.  A games room, playroom and two lounge areas will also be included. The new respite centre will also feature a restaurant and a cinema – a perfect treat for the kids or for when mum and dad fancy a “date night”.

Architect Michael McDowell said the new facility, the first of its kind in Europe, will be a unique building designed to provide a comforting home-from-home for children with cancer.

Michael said: “The building, in the style of a mountain lodge will be dressed in classic materials which relate strongly to its location. Stone will anchor the building to the site, itself a granite base. Warm wood associates itself with the surrounding forests and the zinc roof reflects the influence of the mountains and drumlins of which this place is so much a part. These external materials continue inside to enhance the warmth of the building and envelop the visitor in a secure and reassuring atmosphere.”

The architect added: “The upper and lower level lounges are glazed to take advantage of the views across to Slieve Donard, satisfying the need for light and the link between illumination and wellbeing.”

Social work team manager at the NI Cancer Centre, Richard Hardy, welcomed the news that building work has begun on the replacement centre and said: “Shimna has been a real benefit to families who have a young person living with cancer and we welcome the new service planned for Daisy Lodge which will offer this opportunity for support to many more families,

Also adding his support to the project, South Down Assemblyman and deputy chair of Stormont’s Health Committee, Jim Wells said: “Our medical staff are great in that they treat the cancer. NICFC extends this care further and supports the child in a practical and emotional way. It’s invaluable for the health trust to be able to refer children with cancer and their families to NICFC and its therapeutic centre. NICFC staff members are highly trained to deal with every eventuality.

“I have spoken to people who have stayed at Shimna Valley and they have described it as a lifeline for them. The larger facility means NICFC will be able to extend this service to more children in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Daisy Lodge will put this country on the map as a world leader in the care for young people with cancer. I would encourage anyone who can help fund this project financially to come forward and donate to this essential service being provided by the voluntary sector.”

MP for South Down, Margaret Ritchie, congratulated NICFC on the progress and said: “It is heartening to know that the charity will continue to provide such high-level care in future years. In addition, this development will bring a welcome boost to the local economy, with the creation of jobs in the construction industry, and will help to sustain jobs in the facility.”