Smiles and laughter were in plentiful supply at Chestnut Tree House, as dozens of families gathered to welcome some special Christmas visitors to the children’s hospice.
While for some with life-limiting conditions there may have been the knowledge that this year could sadly be their last festive time together, there was an admirably uplifting mood with dozens of children greeting Mr and Mrs Claus.
The surprise visit was made even more spectacular with an animation projected onto the rear of the hospice revealing Santa’s elves preparing and busying themselves for the big day.
One of many people attending the evening was Claire Poke, from Lancing, who believed it had been a great experience for her and her 18-year-old daughter Alice.
“It has been brilliant this evening with all the lights and music,” said Claire, who explained Alice’s condition of Rett syndrome meant she had faced a number of serious medical complications. So having the chance for some respite care at Chestnut Tree House had made a huge difference to them and had “been a lifeline”.
Claire added: “Alice loves it here. She really smiles, claps and laughs whenever we’ve been here for the past six years. It’s meant we can have a sense of a normal life and be able to take a holiday with the help of Chestnut Tree House.”
Laura and Abi Allen from Angmering accompanied their 16-year-old sister Eleanor, who were all equally enthusiastic about the event.
Laura, of Parsons Close, praised the work of the hospice. She said: “We’ve been coming here wit Eleanor since the place opened about 10 years ago. It’s been good for her to get out and meet new people.
“Eleanor has Aicardi syndrome (a genetic disorder) which is why she comes here. When we were younger we did some trips with the hospice with Eleanor which were good. I think it’s also been brilliant for our mum as it’s allowed her to take a holiday. I think Eleanor enjoys being here, too.”
As part of the hospice’s annual Christmas appeal, supporters were asked to send in messages of goodwill for the festive season, along with a donation. Throughout December, these notes of thanks have been on display for all the families to read.
Linda Perry, director of children’s services, said none of its work would be possible without its hugely dedicated team.
She said: “Messages of support can do wonders for the morale of the children and their families who are going through problems and experiencing emotions many of us cannot begin to even imagine.
“The visit of Santa and Mrs Claus combined with the captivating video animations was the perfect way to treat the children and make all their wishes come true this Christmas.”
The donations will help cover the care costs of the over Christmas to make this time of year extra special for the children.