“Children’s hospices are places filled with life, colour and compassion."
This week (19th - 25th June) marks our charity partner Together for Short Lives’ Children’s Hospice Week, which celebrates the amazing and essential work of the 54 children’s hospices across the UK. As the leading UK children’s palliative care charity, Together for Short Lives raises vital funds for children’s hospices, and campaigns to ensure the UK’s 99,000 seriously ill children have access to the best palliative care, when and where they need it. We’re thrilled to say that we have extended our partnership to April 2027 to ensure we can continue supporting them on this hugely important mission. Our CEO, Colin McKinlay, has shared his thoughts on the importance of children’s hospices and why our partnership is so vital.
“Children’s hospices are places filled with life, colour and compassion.”
Children’s hospices are incredible places and the people who work in them are incredible people. They provide invaluable support to families, whether that be respite care, help with accessing the right services and support or, sadly for many families, supporting them through the loss of a child and beyond.
As a father myself, I hope that no one ever needs to visit a children’s hospice, but I am also incredibly grateful that these places exist to shine a light in the darkest of times and wrap a blanket of care around families going through the unimaginable.
Over the last six years of our partnership, I’ve been lucky enough to visit some of the hospices we support and see the amazing work they do first-hand. Like many people, I was nervous before my first visit - I imagined a place which teemed with the tragedy of lives taken far too soon. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Children’s hospices are places filled with life, colour and compassion. From the family areas with their bright decorations and beautiful gardens, to the unique rooms for sensory sessions, music therapy and hydrotherapy, there is something special in these spaces.
One of the things that I’ve found incredibly moving was hearing that staff know the favourite things of their regular visitors and will add little touches to their bedrooms when they are coming to stay – an Avengers duvet cover here, a Paw Patrol poster there. There is a concerted effort to make the bedrooms feel like a home from home for the children, their parents and their siblings.
There is, of course, the side to children’s hospices that we would all rather didn’t have to exist. The end of life care. But even here, every effort is made to ensure children and their families have the power to make decisions that are right for them. It provides a safe space to grieve together and, as the years go by, a place to return to and remember and a place where people understand what you are going through. Their aftercare extends to the whole family, remembering that siblings are not only grieving their own loss, but having to watch their parents grieve as well.
Staying true to our roots
One of the best parts of my job is hearing about the amazing work our teams are doing to raise funds for this important cause. I never cease to be amazed at their creativity and seemingly super-human commitment to raising these vital funds.
To date, we’ve raised more than £1.7 million for Together for Short Lives, which has already made a huge difference to thousands of seriously ill children and their families across the UK. It’s a figure that I’m incredibly proud of.
Our teams have run more than 1,113 miles across various marathons. They’ve jumped out of planes, cycled across America, taken on mountainous challenges and covered more than 35,000,000 steps as part of the annual 99,000 Steps Challenge – a step for every child with a life-limiting condition in the UK.
Then we have the seemingly ceaseless generosity of our guests - whether they’re purchasing ducks for our famed races down the Wild Water Rapids (don’t worry, they’re plastic!), donating when they book their break or throwing coins into the multitude of Wishing Wells we have around our villages.
Charity is embedded into Center Parcs’ roots - we were founded by a man who gave all his profits to charity, and we remain committed to making a difference to families across the UK. It’s something we consider in every decision we take - for example, when we were able to reopen our villages after the first national lockdown, we knew we needed a way of managing the number of people in our Subtropical Swimming Paradises. We realised the easiest way to manage this was to introduce bookable slots and the decision was quickly taken to donate the 10p booking fee to support our charity partners. We knew fundraising throughout the pandemic was difficult, and that the families they supported were struggling - families were going into complete isolation in an effort to protect their already vulnerable children. We hoped that these 10p donations would go some way to ease the fundraising gap that had arisen. But even we couldn’t believe our eyes when we added the total up and realised a staggering £272,000 had been raised for Together for Short Lives.
In addition, we’ve given more than 100 families the gift of time together with a Center Parcs break. Families have told us how much they appreciate this time together, whether that’s to spend some time just being mum or dad, making special memories as a family, being able to devote some one-on-one time to a sibling, or coming together to remember their child.
We’ve heard from families how much that special time with their children means to them. Children like William, who is supported by East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices. William’s mum, Emma, explained that every day can feel like a struggle when you’re caring for a seriously ill child, fighting to get the equipment you need to keep them safe, making adaptations to your home to make sure their needs are met and caring around the clock. A break at Center Parcs gave the family time to play together and experience some incredible firsts.
And children like Emily, who has a severe heart condition and was given weeks to live when she was born. She’s now a smiley four-year-old girl who makes friends with everyone she meets. As well as her heart condition, Emily is also blind and needs round-the-clock care - she is non-mobile and is fed entirely through a tube. But despite everything, her mum, Val, says she is “a tough little girl full of joy, smiles and life.” Val and Emily enjoyed a Center Parcs break after spending many months in lockdown during the pandemic - they played in the pool and watched the wildlife through lodge windows, allowing Emily to enjoy some of the magical childhood experiences that Val is determined to fill her life with.
When time is short, families deserve the chance to make the most of every single moment together, and I remain completely humbled by the strength these families show - I feel very privileged to be able to help them in making lasting memories.
Thank you for your support - we couldn’t have done it without you!"