Tributes to ‘angel’ who cared for Sunderland’s severely disabled

Audrey Turnbull (left) and Geraldine Plinkett (right)
Audrey Turnbull (left) and Geraldine Plinkett (right)
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AN “angel” who devoted her life to helping care for severely disabled people across the North East has died.

Audrey Turnbull helped improve hundreds of lives after she co-founded the Donna Claire Venture in Seaburn.

The home she created provided vital respite care for families from all over the region who came to see the project as a lifeline.

Audrey died in hospital last Wednesday. She was 80 years old.

But her devotion and her dedication to helping others will never be forgotten.

Geraldine McNally, who co-founded the venture, today paid tribute to her unique colleague and friend.

The pair first met during a trip to Lourdes in France during 1975.

Geraldine, 61, said: “I was a volunteer on the trip and we got talking about how important it was to provide breaks for families, respite care.

“We started talking about how it would be nice if there was somewhere in Sunderland that could offer this.”

In 1984, Audrey, who had enjoyed a successful career as a children’s nurse, first in the old A&E department in Newcastle Road, and later at the former Sunderland General Hospital, registered the Donna Claire charity.

The pair spent the next eight years fund-raising.

“The people of Sunderland were wonderful,” Geraldine recalls. “They took us to their hearts and they took what we were doing to their hearts.”

In April 1992, Donna Claire House opened in Seaburn. Named after a young woman who had been with Geraldine and Audrey on that trip to Lourdes, the house became the first of its kind in the city.

“For nearly 20 years, we provided respite for people aged between 18 and 65 with physical disabilities,” said Geraldine, 61.

Audrey, now retired from nursing, devoted all her time to caring for those in the home. Geraldine recalls a woman of great dedication – but also great softness.

“She had enormously high standards and she was devoted to what she did, but there was a real kindness there,” she added.

“She loved those she cared for and she loved their families. She was a great listener. She would listen to the families and their concerns, which was sometimes all they needed. People would come up to her in the street and say ‘hello sister’, she was loved so much.”

Two years ago this month, Donna Claire was forced to shut its doors after funding problems. A campaign, spearheaded through the Echo, aimed to raise £100,000 to keep the venture going. But, despite the best efforts of the community, funds eventually dried up and the home closed.

Geraldine said: “That left an enormous hole in both our lives – and both our hearts.

“There are so many people out there who had their lives changed by Audrey, and she will live on through those she helped.”Tribu