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Children's hospice Demelza celebrates 20 years

By Jenna Dobbs

A well-loved charity which supports seriously ill children is celebrating its 20th anniversary.

Demelza Hospice Care for Children aims to make life better for babies, children and young people with life-threatening or life-limiting illnesses.

It was created by the parents of Demelza Phillips, who tragically lost her life at the age of 24 after developing a brain tumour.

From left, Demelza vice president Richard Oldfield, the late Patricia Knatchbull, 2nd Countess Mountbatten of Burma, and Demelza's father Derek Phillips
From left, Demelza vice president Richard Oldfield, the late Patricia Knatchbull, 2nd Countess Mountbatten of Burma, and Demelza's father Derek Phillips

Inspired by Demelza's work at Acorns Children's Hospice in Birmingham, her parents, Derek and Jennifer Phillips, decided to launch a similar organisation in her memory.

In 1998, the Demelza hospice in Rook Lane, Bobbing, near Sittingbourne, opened, after being designed by architect Derek.

The site boasts an array of facilities, including specially adapted bedrooms and family accommodation.

The once small organisation, which merged with fellow charity James House in 2004, now costs £10 million to run each year, and has thousands of dedicated supporters.

Derek stepped down as chairman of the board of trustees in 2001, taking on the role of founder president.

From left, former mayor of Swale, Cllr Gerry Lewin, the late Countess Mountbatten of Burma, Derek Phillips, and Harold Rogers, the then president of Demelza Hospice Care for Children
From left, former mayor of Swale, Cllr Gerry Lewin, the late Countess Mountbatten of Burma, Derek Phillips, and Harold Rogers, the then president of Demelza Hospice Care for Children
The Demelza hospice in Bobbing as it was being built
The Demelza hospice in Bobbing as it was being built
The Demelza hospice in Bobbing
The Demelza hospice in Bobbing

Sadly, Jennifer died unexpectedly in August the same year, but Derek still campaigns relentlessly for the vision inspired by the loss of his daughter.

He said: "Demelza loved working, she put everything into it.

"She was only at Acorns Children's Hospice for a short time, but we went to the hospice on the day of her funeral, and they were all in tears.

"She just flung herself into into it, and she loved it."

Derek, 78, who now lives in Southampton with his wife, Alma, has described the support from people across the county as "wonderful".

He also spoke about his gratitude for the work of the late Patricia Knatchbull, 2nd Countess Mountbatten of Burma.

The countess served as patron of Demelza Hospice Care since its inception, and was a tireless supporter and ambassador for the charity.

Poldark's first Demelza, Angharad Rees, was also involved with the hospice and its work, and Derek hopes the series' current actress may follow suit.

Lavinia Jarrett, who is director of people and resources at Demelza, has been with the charity for more than 18 years.

She said: "It's been amazing, and I can't imagine ever doing anything else.

"It has been humbling, inspiring and heart wrenching at times, and I feel so privileged to have had this opportunity."

Demelza will celebrate its 20th anniversary today, with a tea party for specially invited guests.

For more information, visit www.demelza.org.uk

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