TV star Martin Clunes was in Salisbury today to help launch plans to build a children’s hospice in Wiltshire.

Julia’s House, which has a hospice in Dorset, has spent the last couple of years running a pilot service in south Wiltshire for families requiring respite care and has now officially launched its project to build a hospice in the county.

The charity is currently looking for a site in Devizes or Trowbridge and hopes to find one by late spring.

Chief executive Martin Edwards said: “The hospice needs to be in the centre of the county and needs to have good road networks in addition to public transport links because children will be coming here frequently not just at the end of their lives. Nurses and carers will also be going to their homes as well to give parents a break.

“We have raised £1.2 million towards the £3 million target – it’s now about encouraging the public to come forward to fundraise which will enable us to help children quicker in the county - at this stage it very much depends on the generosity of the Wiltshire public.”

Clunes, who is known for the comedy drama series Doc Martin and is about to star in a new series as Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, said: “There is a slight intake of breath when you hear the words ‘hospice’ and ‘children’ together but they are words you desperately do want to hear together because it’s such an un-catered for service.

“Julia’s House gets just under seven per cent funding from the government which is mental.

“There is a massive need - I understand they are already seeing 13 families in Salisbury so to have premises would be a fantastic thing for Wiltshire.”

The actor, who lives in west Dorset, added: “I became involved as a patron of the hospice eight or nine years ago.

“Most people don’t know about it, luckily most people won’t hear about it because they don’t need to but for the people that use it, it makes a massive difference. It’s just a very, very special place.”

Mr Edwards added: “Nobody provides the kind of service that we can – when our nurses and carers visit a home they will stay for several hours whereas the NHS might come in to do a procedure and leave 20 minutes later.

“The most important aspect of what we do is the way we support the whole family and reduce the stress that comes with looking after very ill children around the clock.”

The official launch of the hospice project took place during a social gathering ‘Housemates’ for families at the Salisbury & Wilts Golf Club. The sessions are held regularly in Dorset and South Wiltshire to enable Julia’s House families to meet each other for a chat and a cuppa while their children enjoy a play session supervised by carers.

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*Paola Campari-Moss, whose little daughter Chiara died in January 2014, was the first to use the hospice end of life service at home in Wiltshire.

Diagnosed with an aggressive and inoperable brain tumour only months before she died, Chiara had just turned four.

Paola, from Salisbury, said: “There’s so much responsibility in caring for a child and you have to be on the ball all the time.

“There is no way you can leave that responsibility with a family member.

“We didn’t realise how much the hospice could do to help Chiara. I thought they were nurses who looked after children but they actually become part of your family. They try and understand what your children need and what you need.

“Being over the Christmas period, there were a couple of school concerts and ballet performances that my other daughter was involved in and she needed me there.

“You have to have constant trust in the nurses and be happy with them being the last person that your child might see alive. It’s huge to give that away but the nurses build such a rapport with you and your child that you’re able to do that.”

Claire Hudson-Cooper, who has been a paediatric nurse with Julia’s House for five years and helped care for Chiara, said: “When you are a caring 24 hours at home, it’s a very stressful situation. You can’t leave a sick child with family or friends because it’s too much to ask them.

“We take some of that pressure off and provide flexible support which you can’t get anywhere else – if people need help on the day, they can call us rather than having to rely on fixed schedules.”

*Claire Cherrett from Salisbury says the weekly two or three hours respite care she receives for her 19-month-old son Bruce, who has cerebral palsy, is invaluable.

She said: “Bruce is quite difficult to handle – he has very stiff limbs which will then go floppy and I’m always a bit reluctant to let people who are not trained to pick him up.

“I was referred by a community nurse to the hospice who had started doing home visits last year and it takes a lot of the pressure off, it just gives me a short period of time to do those things that would otherwise be a lot more difficult to do.

“As he gets older and I’m more likely to leave him for longer periods, the new hospice will be a good opportunity for him to go somewhere else and have activities that we don’t necessarily do at home.”