BOSSES at the North-East's first baby hospice have been inundated with public support in the wake of a major setback.

Plans to open the Zoe's Place Hospice for Special Babies, on Teesside, were thrown into confusion when a bid for £501,000 of National Lottery cash was turned down.

The decision, taken by the New Opportunities Fund (NOF) on Tuesday, could have an impact on hopes to open the hospice in a former convent in Normanby, near Middlesbrough, within the next two months.

Grant aid would have been handed out over three years, covering core costs such as staff salaries.

Despite the disappointment, general manager Mark Guidery said pledges of money and well-wishes had flooded in from across the region.

"It has produced an awful lot of phone calls and there has been a real swell of support for us, which is brilliant," he said.

"Calls have been coming in from all over - Middlesbrough, Stockton, Hartlepool, and there have been a lot of calls from Darlington and Newton Aycliffe, as well.

"There have been pledges of cash and people wanting to arrange fundraising events."

The facility will provide 24-hour care for children from newborn to the age of four, but the NOF said that the age range was too limited to meet its criteria.

Mr Guidery said: "Once we are open, we want to stay open and not have to close due to a lack of funding."

The hospice will be only the second of its kind in the country. Zoe's Place in Liverpool was the only other project to be turned down by the NOF.

"It was such a stark decision to totally cut us out - we don't get a bean from the Government, so we were amazed they couldn't fit us in," said Mr Guidery.