The journey to a ‘home away from home’

The journey to a ‘home away from home’

Guest blogger: David Renton, Finance and Development Director of Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity

So why is there such a sense of joy at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity this week? Well, we have finally secured the site and partnerships to enable Ronald McDonald House Charities to build a new House – a stunning new facility for 59 families to stay in close to Evelina London Children’s Hospital.

When it’s built, the new home will replace the much smaller Ronald McDonald House that is half an hour away on the Guy’s Campus. This means more families will be able to stay for free close to hospital whilst their loved ones are treated. Families who stay in the new space won’t have to try (and often fail) to get some sleep in a chair by their children’s bed; catch a bus or taxi every time they need to get to hospital, or pay for expensive accommodation. For families going through such a hard time, having a free and comfortable place to regain their strength at the end of the day, cook a meal and share their experiences with others going through similar circumstances can make an extremely stressful situation that bit more bearable.

So we’re proud to have been able to make a difference. This has been a long process within a challenging project, involving an arduous journey to secure the right location, managing a sizeable reorganisation and working jointly with many partners, without whose commitment we simply wouldn’t be celebrating today. So it is all the more pleasing when significant milestones are achieved.

The project started in 2010, when initial plans for a new Ronald McDonald House near St Thomas’ Hospital fell through. We’re very fortunate to have a significant property portfolio which we can use to support our charitable objectives. So, as providers of the land and active investors in the project, we started looking for a new site. It wasn’t long before we identified the Brian Creamer House student residence, owned by King’s College London (KCL), as the perfect and only feasible location for the new House.

But before we could move ahead with our chosen site, 69 KCL’s students needed a new place to live so, working with the hospitals, I spent the summers of 2012 and 2013 project managing the refurbishment of Orchard-Lisle House and Iris Brook House on the Guy’s campus with worryingly immovable deadlines to have them ready for occupation in early September – we made it in both cases, just! We also took the opportunity to create a lovely courtyard garden for all of the students, staff and patients that use the Guy’s Campus but that’s another story.

In parallel with all of this, the likelihood of significant expansion at the Evelina meant we needed to purchase more land next to Brian Creamer House as well as find additional partners to fund the building costs.

We set to work with the Church Commissioners to acquire the land and consents. I looked at how we might work with the Evelina Family Trust which ran the existing Ronald McDonald House. The trustees of the Trust took the difficult but necessary decision to merge their small entity with the national Ronald McDonald House Charities. The Charity’s larger financial and operational resources have been fundamental to the project. They were amazing in their willingness to commit so quickly and readily to working with us on such a large and, for them, unanticipated project.

As these strands all started to come together this summer, we had to recognise that even with the combined commitments from us and Ronald McDonald House Charities we still didn’t have enough funding to build the new House. Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust then stepped in with a crucial commitment to finalise the funding package.

So that is how we come to today. The contracts between us, Ronald McDonald House Charities, KCL, the Trust and the Church Commissioners have all been signed. And the project has secured planning permission from Lambeth Council as well.

Particular acknowledgement must go to our Head of Property Gail Macdonald for her enormous efforts and dedication on this project to date. The next phase will be led by the very capable Anne Ward at Ronald McDonald House Charities and her team. We should be on site in spring 2015 and celebrating the opening of the new House some time late in 2016. We certainly look forward to that.

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