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Norwich needs house for families to be close to seriously ill children in hospital

PUBLISHED: 13:30 06 October 2011 | UPDATED: 14:46 06 October 2011

Alice Rowlands family are raising money forRonald McDonald House Charities. Alice Rowlands was born six weeks early and with a rare liver condition, neonatal hemochromatosis.

Alice Rowlands family are raising money forRonald McDonald House Charities. Alice Rowlands was born six weeks early and with a rare liver condition, neonatal hemochromatosis.

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Hospital bosses and fundraisers from Norwich have joined forces in a bid to convince charity bosses to establish a house in Norwich for families to stay in while seriously ill children are treated.

Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) provides more than 400 bedrooms across 14 houses and 29 sets of family rooms in or close to the grounds of UK hospitals and hospices where families of seriously ill children can stay free of charge for as long as they need.

But demand for accommodation offered by RMHC across the country, with families needing ‘home away from home’ accommodation next to the hospital where their child is seriously ill, is far exceeding current capacity.

Norwich is one of many cities throughout the country looking to establish a Ronald McDonald House and although so far unsuccessful, could be on the brink of achieving a breakthrough thanks to the efforts of fundraisers and hospital bosses.

It has emerged that while a Norwich site was not accepted in the charity’s most recent selection process by the board of trustees, it is “keen to build on its relationships with the hospital and by keeping an on-going dialogue, hopes to commit to a House in the future”.

Anna Dugdale, chief executive of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, said: “We would very much like to have a Ronald McDonald House here at the NNUH, particularly as we are a tertiary centre for premature and critically ill babies and children. It would make such a big difference to the families of those children.”

One family who know first hand the difference a Ronald McDonald House can make are the Rowlands family from Spixworth, near Norwich.

Alice Rowlands was born six weeks early and with a rare liver condition, neonatal hemochromatosis, at the N&N in September 2007.

After just five days she was moved to King’s College Hospital in London, where she died aged just 15 days old. After her death, parents Miranda and Paul set up the Alice Rowlands Memorial Society (ARMS) to raise money for the Ronald McDonald House Charities, which provides accommodation for families whose loved ones are in hospital miles from home.

To date the family, including son Sam, now 10, have raised more than £49,000 for RMHC in a bid to help other families in a similar position - and to try and establish a similar facility in Norwich.

Mr Rowlands, 40, who works for Aviva in Norwich and lives in Chestnut Avenue, said: “RMHC helped us when we need them most. First, we were reeling from the shock of having a new baby daughter and being told that she was critically ill.

“She was then moved from the comparatively quiet Norfolk and Norwich Hospital unit, to a very busy and bustling ward in King’s College Hospital where we constantly felt in the way, and couldn’t spend much time with Alice.”

The Rowlands family initially spent time with relatives in London, but were later told that a room in a Ronald McDonald House had become available.

He said: “The RMHC felt safe and calm and was a real sanctuary for us. Miranda and I could take it in turns to see Alice, and one of us could see her at night while the other stayed with Sam. The house was staffed by a lovely team of people who really looked after us, and gave us valuable tips on where to go in the area for food, shopping and anything else we might need. They knew every family in the house and genuinely cared. It was also a real comfort having other families in the house who were in a similar situation, some of whom we have stayed friends with.

“Obviously we would love for there to be an Ronald McDonald House in Norwich. However, we understand that this is between the hospital and RMHC to discuss.”

Kevin Foley, franchisee of the McDonalds stores at Norwich Airport and Tuckswood in Norwich, has also worked hard to raise funds to try and get a Ronald McDonald House established in the city, like his father, Terry, before him.

Mr Foley, who is organising a charity event later this year, said: “My father was trying to get a house built at the hospital when it was at St Stephens Road.

“It’s something we’ve tried to do every year, but unfortunately when there’s a recession people don’t give as freely to charity as they used to and there’s only limited funds.”

Mr Foley said spirits had been “dampened” by the charity’s decision not to select Norwich this year, but they would not be put off trying to achieve the goal in the future.

A spokesman for RMHC said: “A number of hospitals would like a Ronald McDonald House for their hospital, including NNUH. “However, as an independent charity that relies on the generosity of supporters, any expansion has to be carefully considered in line with the charity’s resources.

“Unfortunately the Norwich site was not accepted in its most recent selection process by the RMHC Board of Trustees. However, the charity is keen to build on its relationships with the hospital and by keeping an on-going dialogue, hopes to commit to a house in the future.”

To find out more about RMHC log onto www.rmhc.org.uk.

Has tragedy prompted you to raise funds for charity? Call reporter Peter Walsh on 01603 772436 or email peter.walsh@archant.co.uk

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