FAMILIES of severely disabled children on Wearside are this week being invited to view a respite care centre which is finally set to open later this year.
Supported by the Echo, fund-raising for Grace House started almost 13 years ago.
Originally intended to be a hospice, the Southwick site will now be a respite care centre, providing a welcome break for parents whose little ones have complex physical disabilities and need round-the-clock care.
With more building to work to come next month, when two extra bedrooms will be created, it is expected that the Faber Road centre could be caring for needy children by the end of this summer, subject to a successful inspection by Ofsted.
When finished, between 80 and 100 children are expected to be cared for at some stage each year at the massive site.
Grace House’s amibitious new chief executive, Dr Karen Parry, today spoke of her vision for the centre as the weeks count down until it welcomes its first children.
“I can say that the first families whose children might stay at Grace House will be coming for a visit next week,” she said.
“The trust we have to gain with these families takes a long time to build up.
“We need to start forming those relationships.”
As well as caring for poorly youngsters, Dr Parry added that staff hope to create an atmosphere where all members of each family are welcome.
Grace House is set to link up with the Cultural Spring, a programme of arts to boost culture in Sunderland.
“As part of that we should have a banner maker coming here and a percussion musician so that the children can be involved in that,” she said.
“We also want to use play therapists, who will work with the children but also with the staff. We’d like to see a lot more of that and also if an artist can be based here at Grace House to help the youngsters create their own work.”
Another vision is that disabled youngsters will be able to work at Grace House and enhance their prospects.
“It’s a big challenge for all young people to find work, but I think here we should be able to create real employment opportunities, whether that’s to do with gardening, administration or working on reception at the centre.
“There are a lot of barriers to them working in other places, maybe because there aren’t disabled ramps or toilets, but we’ve got that here.”
Bosses also said they wanted to thank everyone who has donated money, small or large amounts, to help get Grace House in a position to open.
“We’ve got to say a massive thank you,” said Dr Parry.
“Hopefully, those who have donated will come and see the enormity of what they have achieved.
“Grace House is something Sunderland will be proud of and I want it on the national map as a demonstrator of how you do this kind of centre.”
Families with a disabled child who think they may be able to use Grace House are invited to the centre on Wednesday, April 15, at 6pm, or on Thursday, April 16, at 10.30am. “There is no obligation involved in these visits,” added Dr Parry.
“This is for families to see if their child is suitable for a short break with us.”
To find out more about Grace House, call the centre on 525 2885 or go to www.gracehouse.co.uk.