“THE miracle of Lourdes.” That is what co-founders Geraldine Plunkett and Audrey Turnbull have dubbed Sunderland’s Donna Claire Venture, as they come to terms with its closure in December.
The two women, who have devoted the last 27 years of their lives to the charity, met during a trip to Lourdes in France in July 1975.
Geraldine, who was then a teacher, was accompanying people with disabilities while Audrey, who was a nurse, was on holiday with Donna Gardiner – the Donna after which the holiday home is named.
They hit it off straight away and pledged to make their holidays an annual adventure, treating people with disabilities to a week away each summer.
Several years later, they decided to join forces to provide a top-class facility where people with severe disabilities could take a break, also giving relatives a bit of time off.
Geraldine quit her job as a teacher and relocated from her home down south to Sunderland in 1984.
That August they registered the charity and set about raising money to launch their venture.
With just £50, they opened a bank account before drumming up support from Wearsiders, who dug deep to help it get off the ground.
They snapped up a house at Seaburn Terrace and after four years of renovations, in December 1991 held their first open day, welcoming their first guest the following March.
Geraldine said: “We gradually built it up to having five guests a week and 20 staff.
“Our ethos has always been that we should be a family place where the guests are the most important part and that is what we have been doing for the last 20 or so years.”
Since opening, Donna Claire has given hundreds of people with severe disabilities a caring place to take a break.
Its five rooms are always full.
But, as reported in yesterday’s Echo, the holiday home is being forced to close after funds dried up.
Geraldine said: “People say miracles don’t take place at Lourdes, but they do.
“This, in our eyes, is a miracle of Lourdes and one we hoped lasted forever.
“But we have formed friendships that will last forever and nobody can take that away.”
Donna Claire Venture is to close on December 19.