End of an era as Hospice moves to Whiteabbey

The first patient to leave Somerton House for the move to Whiteabbey, Neil Donnan from Ballyclare, with the first volunteer who welcomed patients through the doors 30 years ago, Maire Gordon.  Photo M T Hurson/Harrisons
The first patient to leave Somerton House for the move to Whiteabbey, Neil Donnan from Ballyclare, with the first volunteer who welcomed patients through the doors 30 years ago, Maire Gordon. Photo M T Hurson/Harrisons
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THE Northern Ireland Hospice has closed the doors of Somerton House and moved patients to a temporary base in the grounds of Whiteabbey Hospital.

Facilities at the charity’s North Belfast in-patient unit are no longer fit for purpose, and the temporary move to the Doagh Road site will allow the Victorian building at Somerton to be redeveloped into a modern hospice.

Patients were transferred from Somerton House on Wednesday, November 7 and have now settled in to their new surroundings in Whiteabbey.

Speaking about the temporary transfer of services, Director of Nursing and Patient Services, Heather Weir said: “We had no other choice but to temporarily locate to new premises and raise the funds to build a new hospice on the existing site. The walls of the Victorian building and former school are damp and crumbling, there is only one bathroom and eighteen patients shared one shower. Our vision is to build a state of the art facility at a cost of £11 million.”

Northern Ireland Hospice has cared for thousands of terminally ill patients in Somerton House over the last three decades.

The charity now cares for over 3,000 local people and their families each year.

Plans for the redevelopment of Somerton are set to commence in spring 2013. And it is hoped that the project will be completed by the end of 2014.

A petition by the charity, ‘Our Hour of Need’ is under way to encourage the Northern Ireland Executive to contribute £2.5 million towards the redevelopment of a new hospice. And it’s hoped that £3 million can by raised from the public through ‘Buy a Brick’ and various other campaigns.

The annual Lights to Remember service on December 19 will mark the final closing of the Somerton Road site.