Shropshire Star

Flashback to February 1998 and Sir Harry's Hope House visit

Sir Harry Secombe took Shropshire’s Hope House children’s respite hospice by storm when he gooned about on a visit on February 14, 1998.

Sir Harry Secombe pictured during his Valentine's Day visit in 1998 with Shannon Trow, aged six, from Shrewsbury.

Sir Harry, a former member of the Goons, the famous long-running radio comedy programme, was the first celebrity to agree to be a patron for the hospice back in 1991, and signed the very first Christmas appeal for the charity.

But his Valentine’s Day visit was the first time he had actually seen the hospice at Morda, on the outskirts of Oswestry, which he immediately branded “fantastic”

Sir Harry and his wife, Lady Myra, spent more than an hour touring the building, meeting staff and making friends with the children and their families.

He dropped in on his way to Llangollen to film a special St David's Day Songs of Praise programme at the Royal International Pavilion for the BBC.

Shannon Trow, aged six, of Shrewsbury, had spent all morning making two crepe paper daffodils to present to the Secombes.

Sir Harry Secombe pictured during his Valentine's Day visit in 1998 with Shannon Trow, aged six, from Shrewsbury.

Sir Harry’s promptly fell apart as he took it, prompting laughter and a quick repair job by care worker Pauline Evans of Llanymynech.

"It’s the thought that counts," quipped the entertainer, as he held Shannon’s hand.

One-liners and outbursts of song continued as Sir Harry and Lady Myra toured the hospice, visiting bedrooms, the swimming pool and playrooms.

Sir Harry was particularly impressed with the sensory room, where even the most physically and mentally impaired children could play with a variety of stimulating touchable and visual toys.

Sir Harry Secombe was the charity's first celebrity patron.

The Goons star was soon to be joined by others in agreeing to be a patron of the hospice.

Top golfer Ian Woosnam, who hailed from Shropshire, was one, lending his support for the project even before work had begun on the building, together with the Earl of Powis.

And our own Shirley Tart became a patron in 1995 – she was at that time the Shropshire Star assistant editor.

Shirley and the Star had first become involved in 1991 in the dream of a children's hospice at Morda serving the five counties of Shropshire, Powys, Clwyd, Gwynedd and Cheshire.

Shirley is rightly proud of her long involvement in the hospice since its beginnings, and also wrote a book telling the story of the hospice for its 10th anniversary.

Other early patrons were newscaster Martyn Lewis and then in 1996 international opera star Bryn Terfel.

Terfel had already recorded a CD to raise money for the charity.

One way or the other, other big names who have taken Hope House to their hearts over the years include Sir Norman Wisdom, entertainer Les Dennis, and Coronation Street’s Suranne Jones, as well as Aled Jones, who became a patron after a visit to sister hospice Ty Gobaith in 2005, while former BBC Radio Shropshire presenter Eric Smith has also been a leading supporter.

The Hope House story began when a young Shrewsbury couple, Caroline and Roger Peachey, lost two baby daughters – Fiona and then, Hope. Hope was just 10 months old when she died at Birmingham Children's Hospital.

The Peachey family of Bayston Hill, who were in effect the founders of Hope House children's respite hospice. Pictured are Caroline and Roger, and son James.

Out of tragedy was born a movement to create a children's hospice, and a charity was formed bearing Hope's name with the aim of raising £1.5 million to build a hospice at Morda.

It captured the public imagination and there was a wide range of fundraising events, which saw £3 million raised to build the hospice and run it for a year.

Work started in 1993 and when Hope House opened its doors to its first patients in October 1995 it was only the 10th children's hospice in the world.

In its first full year after opening it supported 80 families.

The official opening came some time later – it was not until April 22, 1998, that the Duchess of Gloucester officially opened Hope House.

In 2004 the charity opened its second hospice, Ty Gobaith, just outside Conwy, North Wales, and another milestone came in 2008 when it increased its upper age limit from 19 to 25.

This meant Hope House was no longer just a children's respite hospice, and there was was a positive story behind that decision, as modern medical treatments were meaning some younger people with life-threatening conditions were living longer.

In 2018 the charity cared for 400 children at the hospices with 900 families receiving support at home or counselling and bereavement support.

Sir Harry, the lovable Goon who gave his support to this Shropshire project, died in 2001 aged 79.

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