A HOSPICE has celebrated its 25th birthday by opening a new £1.4m centre for day patients.

Lady Diana Cowie today (WED) officially unveiled the new unit at Willow Burn Hospice, near Lanchester, named in honour of her late husband.

The Sir Tom Cowie Day Hospice will offer palliative and end-of-life care for up to 20 patients a day.

The opening of the day hospice, part-funded by a £500,000 donation from Sir Tom’s charitable trust, marks the completion of the first phase of an ambitious rebuilding programme at Willow Burn.

Throughout its 25 years, Willow Burn has been based in the cramped and ageing Maiden Law Hospital buildings, while office staff have made do with portable buildings installed on the car parks.

After a year of building work, the new hospice will admit its first patients tomorrow. Fund raising is already underway for the second phase, a £2.2m in-patient hospice, which will see the number of beds increased from four to six.

The third phase, which will hopefully be completed by 2020, will see the opening of a well-being centre offering physiotherapy, assisted living kitchens, a hydrotherapy pool, sauna and steam rooms, complementary therapy room and bereavement suite.

Businessman Sir Tom, who lived in Lanchester and was a long-term supporter of Willow Burn, died in January 2012 at the age of 89.

Opening the new day hospice a year after building work started, Lady Cowie said: “The reputation of Willow Burn is second to none. We have seen at first hand the inspirational care and commitment shown by staff.

“Tom would have loved to be here today and know that the day care facility was named after him. He was a great believer in supporting the local community”.

Willow Burn’s chief officer Helen Mills said: “Up to now, we have been restricted by the amount of space we have had.

“This is not only light and airy with fabulous views, but it will transform the services we’re able to deliver in terms of palliative and end-of-life care”.

She added: “When we bring all of three phases together, we will have a fantastic service that will serve the population for years to come.”

The hospice now hopes to recruit 100 supporters to each pledge to raise £1,000 over the next 12 months to help reach the second phase of the rebuilding programme.

• Willow Burn summer fair takes place on Saturday (July 12) from 11am to 2pm in the hospice grounds.