'Bonkers' idea led to the creation of Children's Hospice South West

Katie and Tom Farwell, whose short but precious lives inspired the founding of Children's Hospice South West.

Katie and Tom Farwell, whose short but precious lives inspired the founding of Children's Hospice South West. - Credit: CHSW

“’We’re going to build it in Barnstaple’, I said. Well, you could have heard a pin drop.” 

The exchange between Eddie Farwell and some senior NHS local authority figures took place at Bristol Children’s Hospital in 1990, shortly after Eddie had awoken one night with a ‘bonkers’ idea to build the South West’s first children’s hospice. 

It was one of many pivotal moments that led to the launch of Children’s Hospice South West (CHSW) in 1991 by Eddie and his late wife Jill, whose two eldest children, Katie and Tom, had life-limiting illnesses. 

Farwell family – Eddie and Jill Farwell, pictured with son Tom and and the couple’s well daughter Lizzy. 

Farwell family – Eddie and Jill Farwell, pictured with son Tom and and the couple’s well daughter Lizzy. - Credit: Barnstaple Link Rotary

“I think they thought ‘well, if these people want to go ahead and do it, let them do it!’,” says Eddie, reflecting on the first three decades of the charity that is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2021. 

When the Farwells launched their fundraising appeal at Pilton Community College in Barnstaple in May 1991, little did they know they were embarking on an incredible journey that had its roots in North Devon, but united the whole of the South West. 

Building Little Bridge House at Fremington

Building Little Bridge House at Fremington - Credit: Lee Burley

Eddie recalled: “What we experienced in North Devon was a total galvanisation of efforts of local people to make what is now Little Bridge House happen. 

“Jill and I knew nothing about fundraising. We were nobodies from nowhere but we told our story and people joined us to raise money.  

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“It was the most humbling experience; the people of North Devon took the appeal to their hearts, whether it be holding jumble sales and baking cakes, or forming local support groups to spread the word and run events in the villages and towns. 

The Farwell family (from left): Tom, Jill, Katie, Eddie and Lizzy

The Farwell family (from left): Tom, Jill, Katie, Eddie and Lizzy - Credit: CHSW

“That total embracing of us made us feel that there was something that was going to succeed. It was that love that we experienced in North Devon which provided us with the springboard to go wider into the South West of England.” 

By early 1992, the groundswell of support for the project across the South West led the Farwells, together with the charity’s trustees, to produce a working model of how the hospice would look.  

They also sought planning consent to build on some Church of England Glebe land in Fremington. 

Construction work at the front of Little Bridge House in Fremington

Construction work at the front of Little Bridge House in Fremington - Credit: Lee Burley

Little Bridge House opened its doors to families in September 1995 but despite the elation of realising their dream, it was a day of mixed emotions for the Farwells.  

They were without their daughter Katie, who had died at Helen House in November 1991, and Jill had been diagnosed with breast cancer in early 1995, although was well enough to attend the opening. 

“It was a time of great joy and great relief but we were pretty exhausted,” said Eddie. 

“We were in touch with many families who were waiting for us to open and it was a joy just to hear their comments.  

“One of the most memorable things a mother said to me when she visited the building came when she sat on the bed and sobbed ‘all this for us?’. I said ‘yes, all this for you because this is what your fellow citizens in communities throughout the South West want for you and your family’. 

“If I was to highlight anything that anyone has ever said to me during the course of the 30 years, that is probably the most powerful.” 

Jill and Eddie Farwell set up Children's Hospice South West after being inspired by their own children, who needed hospice care four hours away

Jill and Eddie Farwell set up Children's Hospice South West after being inspired by their own children, who needed hospice care four hours away - Credit: CHSW

Huge demand for its services led to the opening of the charity’s second hospice, Charlton Farm, near Bristol, in 2007. And in 2011, Little Harbour opened in St Austell, Cornwall, meaning that no matter where families live in the South West, children’s hospice care is available within an hour-and-a-half drive. 

Today, CHSW supports more than 500 families across the peninsula. It has adapted its care during the pandemic to ensure Covid-safe support wherever and whenever families need it, including in the hospices, and for the first time ever, in families’ own homes. 

The charity needs around £11million a year and around 85 per cent is raised through voluntary donations.  

With charity shops having to close during lockdown, and many of the charity’s usual community fundraising events cancelled, people are being asked to do whatever they can to support CHSW in its 30th year and beyond. 

“It will be wonderful be recipients of that wave of support that we’ve previously experienced, but it will be particularly encouraging this year given the difficult year that we had in 2020,” says Eddie. 

Aerial shot of Children's Hospice South West at Little Bridge House at Fremington

Children's Hospice South West, with Little Bridge House at Fremington pictured here, celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2021 - Credit: CHSW

“Please visit our website or give us a ring – anything people are able to do to help, no matter how big or small, will make a real difference to families in 2021.” 

To get involved visit https://www.chsw.org.uk/celebrating-30-years  

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