THIRTY years of unrivalled palliative care and dedication has been celebrated by a pioneering North-East hospice.

Around 60 key figures linked to St Teresa’s Hospice, in Darlington, heard inspirational stories from staff who described their jobs as a “privilege” and “an honour”.

Darlington Mayor Tom Nutt hosted the event to mark 30 years on since a packed public meeting held on February 5 1986 established hospice services in the town.

The meeting was sparked by a handwritten request from Yvonne Rowe after her letter headlined, “Can WE have a hospice”, appeared in The Northern Echo’s former sister paper, The Evening Dispatch.

Mrs Rowe, who was a guest of honour at today’s celebrations (February 5), was nursing her dying friend Mary Hester in 1985 when she pleaded for readers to bring the hospice movement to Darlington.

And three decades on, St Teresa’s Hospice is still growing to give terminally ill patients end-of-life choices and support.

Chief executive of St Teresa’s Hospice, Jane Bradshaw, addressed the audience in the Town Hall’s council chamber and said: “We’ll shortly be in a position to welcome patients to our new purpose-built unit and families will have the option to stay overnight if they want.

“It’s a 10-bed unit and all the rooms are on the ground-floor and face out onto the gardens, which is a therapeutic tool in its own right.

“The rooms are all in a hotel style, not a hospice style, as far as we’ve been able to achieve, and each bed faces a wall which has coloured changing lights, so if we get a lovely young mother who loves the colour pink, the room can be pink for her.

“But make no mistake about it, there will always be machines that we want, but the hospice is all about the people.”

From humble beginnings, St Teresa’s Hospice has grown to become a piece of Darlington’s history to be proud of – after it all started with a letter.

Special guest and hospice founder, Mrs Rowe, said: “I still find it hard to believe the impact my letter had. I thought we would have to fight for every penny and I would not see it in my lifetime.”

Northern Echo editor, Peter Barron, said: “I don’t think a letter has ever been published that has made such a difference to people’s lives. It led to something incredible that has changed the world for the people of this community.”

More than 400 volunteers now donate their time and money to ensure the visionary hospice can support the terminally ill and their families for years to come.

Mrs Rowe’s original request noted the hospice movement meant those with life-limiting illnesses and conditions would be kept free happy and free from pain – morals that St Teresa’s Hospice still stands on 30 years later.